Space

Arecibo radio telescope collapses in dramatic platform fall

Arecibo radio telescope collap...
The Arecibo radio telescope, pictured here still intact
The Arecibo radio telescope, pictured here still intact
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The platform fell when the top of all three support towers broke
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The platform fell when the top of all three support towers broke
The Arecibo radio telescope, pictured here still intact
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The Arecibo radio telescope, pictured here still intact

In a dramatic ending, the famous 1,000-ft Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed this Tuesday at about 7:55 am local time. The 900-ton instrument platform fell and crashed into the dish from a height of 492 ft.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), there were no injuries reported. On November 6, an area around what was at one time the largest single-dish telescope in the world had been declared off-limits to unauthorized personnel after a cable failed.

A previous cable failure in August severely damaged the fragile mesh dish. On November 19, the decision to dismantle the giant radio telescope had been announced after an engineering survey found that the structure was dangerously unstable.

This week's collapse occurred when the tops of all three support towers broke away, dropping the platform and its support cables, though the exact cause will require a full investigation. In the collapse, the observatory's learning center is reported to have suffered significant damage.

The platform fell when the top of all three support towers broke
The platform fell when the top of all three support towers broke

"We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt," says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "When engineers advised the NSF that the structure was unstable and presented a danger to work teams and Arecibo staff, we took their warnings seriously and continued to emphasize the importance of safety for everyone involved. Our focus is now on assessing the damage, finding ways to restore operations at other parts of the observatory, and working to continue supporting the scientific community, and the people of Puerto Rico."

Source: NSF

9 comments
9 comments
Techrex
Did anyone record this event to replay it on social media like www.youtube.com ? This must have been a SPECTACULAR crash!!!
Gannet
900 tons ??!!
Expanded Viewpoint
Um, yeah, that sounds pretty darn peculiar to me, all of a sudden all three support towers failed at the same time?? WHY?!?! I'd like to see at the least some close up pics of the separation point on the towers to determine if it was due to structural failure or if it was man caused. If it was due to cracks in the steel from too much flexing, then there should be rust evident at the failure points, and that rust should have been seen during visual inspections. Did they do any inspections since it was put up? You'd think that with a piece of equipment that expensive, they'd have a yearly inspection done at the most critical points at the least. When I worked for the power company, every car, truck and trailer was given a safety inspection and preventive maintenance every three months. And those didn't cost anywhere near as much as this installation!
Username
So clean up the mess and rebuilt it.
BlueOak
Karma since it was already scheduled for being demolished.

And the bids to dismantle should now be lower due to the heavy suspended portion now already being on the ground!
Troublesh00ter
A damned shame, any way you slice it.
ljaques
I wonder if better maintenance could have prolonged its life. I'll bet the dish made 100 times its cost back over its lifetime. They've sold time to moviemakers and scientists alike. But they're petitioning the White House to buy 'em a new one now.
bwana4swahili
A sad loss for astronomy!
niio
The towers didn't just break off. Each tower has a set of seven cables, four of which are primary supports and three which stabilize the 900 ton platform.

One of the sets had one of the primary cables fail several weeks ago, increasing stress on the remaining three. Individual strands in the remaining cables have been popping daily. An increase in frequency had them send a drone up to the affected tower, and they happened to catch the remaining cables breaking from just yards away. As the platform fell the force broke the tops off the towers.

The first part of the video is a ground based camera that is always on, the second half is the drone.

https://youtu.be/tXbNsC6oGnk