Puerto Rico: Iconic Arecibo Observatory telescope collapses

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (BBC) – A huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed after decades of astronomical discoveries.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) said the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform fell onto a reflector dish some 450ft (137m) below.

It came just weeks after officials announced that the telescope would be dismantled amid safety fears, following damage to its support system.

The Arecibo Observatory telescope was one of the largest in the world.

It was a key scientific resource for radio astronomers for 57 years, and was also made famous as the backdrop for a scene in the James Bond film GoldenEye and other Hollywood movies.

The NSF said there had been no reports of injuries following the collapse.

The NSF said the telescope collapsed at about 07:55 local time on Tuesday, “resulting in damage to the dish and surrounding facilities”.

The telescope consisted of a 1,000ft-wide radio dish with an instrument platform hanging 450ft above. The platform was suspended by cables connected to three towers.

The NSF said an investigation into the platform’s fall was ongoing.

“Initial findings indicate that the top section of all three of the… telescope’s support towers broke off. As the 900-ton instrument platform fell, the telescope’s support cables also dropped,” it said in a statement.

“Preliminary assessments indicate the observatory’s learning centre sustained significant damage from falling cables,” it added.

Two cables had broken since August, damaging the structure and forcing officials to close the observatory.

A review last month found that the telescope was at risk of catastrophic collapse and said the huge structure could not be repaired without posing a potentially deadly risk to construction workers.

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