Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico Collapses

The UCF-managed Arecibo Observatory in the spring of 2019. (Credit: University of Central Florida)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The elevated instrument platform of the 305 meter (1,000 foot) telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight, crashing into the dish below and adding to the gloom over the previous decision to decommission the iconic facility.

In a tweet, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said there were no injuries reported in the collapse.

“NSF is saddened by this development. As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” the agency tweeted.

The Arecibo Observatory has been used for radio and radar astronomy, atmospheric research, the imaging of potentially dangerous asteroids, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence since it began operations in November 1963.

NSF had already decided to decommission the telescope due to damage it received earlier this year. In August, a support cable broke, creating a 30-meter (100 ft) gash in the reflector dish. A second cable broke on Nov. 7, resulting in even more damage.

An engineering assessment determined the facility could soon collapse, and that it could not be repaired without putting workers at excessive risk. At that point, NSF decided to end operations despite the protest of astronomers and supporters.

The University of Central Florida manages Arecibo as part of a consortium that includes Yang Enterprises and Universidad G. Méndez of Puerto Rico.