“We believe the structure will collapse in the near future if left untouched,” was said in a letter by engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti that assessed the Arecibo observatory ahead of the decommissioning announcement on November 19. This thing happened. The instrument platform of the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight. All three of the telescope’s support towers broke off, sending the 900-ton instrument platform suspended 450 feet plummeting down to the dish below. The telescope’s support cables also dropped. The almost whole construction was destroyed after 57 years. No injuries were reported. The NSF said its priorities include safety at the site, conducting a damage assessment and containing or mitigating any environmental damage.
The NSF had planned to preserve as much of the observatory as it could to allow the facility to serve as a hub for research and education in the future. There is no word yet on how this collapse impacts those plans. The telescope has supported and contributed to important discoveries in radio astronomy as well as planetary and solar system research, including gravitational waves. Recently, Arecibo detected organic molecules in a distant galaxy and discovered the first repeating fast radio burst. Scientists worry about projects that were in progress using the Arecibo telescope. It also was important for detection of asteroids that come near Earth.