Giant Arecibo telescope from GoldenEye movie to shut down

Ruben Fields
November 21, 2020

The dish itself is responsible for a number of fascinating discoveries throughout its 57-year operational history, including the first radar image of an asteroid and the first discovery of exoplanets, though it's especially recognisable for its famous cameo in the final act of 1995's GoldenEye.

The damage on the Arecibo Observatory.

Work to begin a "controlled disassembly" of the 305 metre wide radio dish and its 900-ton instrument platform hanging 137 metres above is expected to begin as soon as a technical execution plan covering legal, environmental, safety and cultural requirements is delivered over the coming weeks. For 53 years, the fixed Arecibo radio astronomy dish was, with a diameter of 305 m, the largest single-aperture telescope in the world.

Engineers had been examining the structure since August when one of its support cables snapped. Not long after, it was reported that a second cable had snapped, forcing the NSF to evaluate how to fix it. The possibility of an additional cable snapping could mean the platform might not hold and could collapse into the telescope's dish. Inspection of other cables found that some of the main cables had wire breaks and auxiliary cables were slipping from their sockets. After going over three separate engineering reports, the NSF, which owns the property, has decided the facility is unstable enough that there is no way to fix the damage that does not put personnel at undue risk, according to Space.com. "This decision was not an easy one to make", Sean Jones, NSF's assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, said at a news briefing today.

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A review found that the 305m telescope was at risk of catastrophic collapse, following damage to its support system.

Ralph Gaume, the director of the NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, added that University of Central Florida, which manages the observatory, pursued "every possible option to save this incredible instrument". "According to engineering assessments, even attempts of stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure". A huge loss to Puerto Rico and the scientific community The announcement today of the demise of the radio telescope hit people hard. Giant, aging cables that support the radio telescopes are slowly unraveling in this USA territory, threatening scientific projects that researchers say can't be done elsewhere on the planet.

Arecibo was also famed for a radio message sent into space in 1974 which carried basic information about our planets and the people that live it on.

UCF hired two other engineering companies to provide independent assessments of the telescope.

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