It has happened, the National Science Foundation of the United States has decided to demolish the Arecibo Observatory. Puerto Rico’s historic radio telescope has suffered not one but two cable breaks in recent months. They consider it too dangerous to repair it.
In August 2020 the first cable failed, causing the destruction of part of the main dish of the radio telescope. Months later, this past November 6, a second cable broke again. It is believed that the tension produced by the absence of the first cable has caused one more to break. Something that in principle could cause a chain break of the rest of the cables.
The second break called into question the structural integrity of the radio telescope to a considerable extent. According to the UCF, a total of three engineering companies were hired to access the first failure of the radio telescope and analyze the situation. After the analysis, one of the companies recommended that the radio telescope be decommissioned. The other two agreed with the first report.
They indicate that it is a safety issue. They say the repair could endanger human lives. “While this result is not what we had been working for, and we are discouraged to see such an important scientific resource removed, safety is our top priority,” the UCF president said.
It should be noted that this is not the end of the observatory as such. The demolition means that the Gregorian Dome (the platform suspended in the air with cables) and the main dish will be dismantled. The rest of the scientific instruments will be kept for future use.
It is not known exactly when the demolition will begin, but they expect it to be within the next few weeks. Otherwise, it is expected that some parts of the facilities and the visitor center will be restored among other things.
The Arecibo Observatory has been operating for almost six decades. During this time it has been a gigantic (literally and metaphorically) scientific tool that has allowed great advances in astronomy. Currently, the FAST in China is the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the world.