Huge Arecibo telescope from GoldenEye movie collapses in Puerto Rico
This aerial photo shows the damage to the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables to the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico - AFP
The giant space telescope in which Sean Bean's vicious James Bond character Alec Trevelyan fell to his death in GoldenEye collapsed Tuesday.
The radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico - one of the largest in the world - has been closed since August after severe damage, officials said after 57 years of astronomical discoveries.
The 900-ton receiver platform and Gregorian dome - a structure as tall as a four-story building that houses secondary reflectors - fell on the northern portion of the huge reflector shell that is more than 400 feet below them.
An auxiliary cable snapped in August, cutting 100 feet in the 1,000 foot wide bowl and damaging the receiver platform above it. At the beginning of November a main cable broke.
The collapse baffled many scientists who had relied on what until recently was the largest radio telescope in the world.
"It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was," said Jonathan Friedman, who worked as a senior research fellow at the observatory for 26 years and still lives nearby. "I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control ... I have no words to express it. It's a very deep, terrible feeling."
The telescope appears in the James Bond film GoldenEye
Mr. Friedman ran up a small hill near his house and confirmed his suspicions: a cloud of dust hung in the air where the structure once stood, and dashed some scientists' hopes that the telescope could somehow be repaired.
The 7:56 a.m. collapse on Tuesday came as no surprise as many of the wires in the thick cables that hold the structure broke over the weekend, said Angel Vazquez, the telescope's chief of operations.
"It was a snowball effect," he said. "There was no way I could stop it ... It was too much for the old girl."
He said it was extremely difficult to say if anything could have been done to prevent the damage that occurred after the first cable break in August.
"The maintenance was done as well as possible," he said. "(The National Science Foundation) did the best they could with what they got."
However, the director of the observatory, Francisco Cordova, said that while the NSF had decided it was too risky to repair the damaged cables before the breakdown on Tuesday, he believed that there were options such as: B. the relaxation of certain cables or the use of helicopters to redistribute the weight.
Another aerial photo shows the damage to the Arecibo Observatory - AFP
Meanwhile, installing a new telescope would cost up to $ 350 million, money the NSF doesn't have, Vazquez said, adding it must come from US Congress.
"It's a great loss," said Carmen Pantoja, an astronomer and professor at the University of Puerto Rico who used the telescope for her PhD. "It was a chapter in my life."
Scientists around the world had asked US officials and others to reverse the NSF's decision to close the observatory. The NSF said at the time that it intends to reopen the visitor center and restore the operation of the observatory's remaining assets, including its two LIDAR facilities used for research in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, including the Analysis of cloud cover and precipitation data. The lidar facilities are still in operation, along with a 12-meter telescope and a photometer that is used to study photons in the atmosphere, Vazquez said.
"We are saddened by this situation, but thankful that no one was injured," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. "When engineers told NSF that the structure was unstable and a threat to work teams and Arecibo employees, we took their warnings seriously."
The telescope was built in the 1960s with Defense Department funds to develop ballistic missile defense. In its 57 years of operation, it had experienced hurricanes, tropical humidity, and a series of earthquakes.
The telescope was used to track asteroids on their way to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize, and determine whether a planet might be habitable. It also served as a practice area for graduate students and attracted around 90,000 visitors annually.
"I'm one of those students who visits it at a young age and gets inspiration," said Abel Mendez, professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, who has used the telescope for research purposes. "The world without an observatory is losing, but Puerto Rico is losing more."
The last time he used the telescope was on August 6, just a few days before an electrical outlet with the torn auxiliary cable failed, which experts may believe was a manufacturing defect. The National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory that is administered by the University of Central Florida, said crews evaluating the structure after the first incident found that the remaining cables could support the extra weight.
But another cable broke on November 6th.
Scientists had used the telescope to study pulsars in order to detect gravitational waves and search for neutral hydrogen, which provides information on how certain cosmic structures are formed. Around 250 scientists worldwide had been using the observatory when it closed in August, including Mr Mendez, who was studying stars to find habitable planets.
"I'm trying to recover," he said. "I am still very concerned."
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