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A broken cable at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory has torn a 100-foot hole in the plate of one of the world’s largest telescopes, taking the instrument offline until repairs are made.
The Arecibo Mass Reflection Plate, which was built inside a sink hole in northern Puerto Rico, was damaged when a 3 “diameter support cable suddenly broke before dawn Monday, according to the University of Central Florida, which manages the Observatory.
In a photo of the damage, the numerous twisted panels that make up the 1000-meter plate can be seen hanging from the structure or lying on the ground below it.
When the cable fell, it also damaged several panels in the Gregorian Cup that is suspended above the plate and accommodates sensitive receivers to collect signals from space.
“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” Francisco Cordova, director of the Observatory, said in an email to NPR. “Our focus is to ensure the safety of our staff, protect facilities and equipment, and restore the facility to full operations as soon as possible so that it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”
The statement said it is not yet clear what caused the cable to break and did not give a schedule for repairs.
In an email to NPR, Raymond Lugo III, director of the UCF Space Institute in Florida, said “removing the damaged cable and buying a cable to replace the damaged cable” was being appreciated.
“We are also working to determine the cause of this failure, including non-destructive testing of the remaining cables,” he said, adding that after a thorough assessment, “we will draw up a plan, plan and budget for the recovery.”
Since its completion in 1963, Arecibo has played a leading role in discoveries ranging from new knowledge on pulsars to the discovery of planets outside our solar system. He has also visibly understood in the State Intelligence Research, or SETI. The Observatory also appeared in the film contact and the James Bond film GoldenEye.
The observatory held the record for the largest telescope in the world until 2016, when an even larger instrument of a similar design, known as the Radio Aperture Five Hundred Meter (FAST) Telescope, was completed in southern China. After testing, FAST officially went online last year.
In 2017, one of Arecibo’s much smaller plates and several panels on the main plate were damaged when Category 4 Hurricane devastated the island.