The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico suffered heavy damage on Monday, August 10, when an auxiliary cable above the reflector dish broke, according to the University of Central Florida. The falling cable ripped a 100-foot long tear in the dish, damaging some of the panels in the observatory’s Gregorian dish along the way.
The observatory is operated by UCF and is used for radar astronomy, participating in projects such as SETI@home, which is looking for signs of intelligent life in the cosmos.
The incident comes not long after Arecibo shut down for Tropical Storm Isaias, which ultimately passed by without damaging the observatory.
Following the storm, researchers at Arecibo studied Asteroid 2020 NK1, an asteroid “calculated to be one of the biggest threats out of all known asteroids on NASA’s list of potential impactors, with about one chance in 70,000 of impacting the Earth between 2086 and 2101,” according to NASA.
After taking measurements over the course of two and a half hours, the team at Arecibo was able to conclude that the asteroid would not pass close enough to the Earth to be a threat.
James Bond fans may recognize Arecibo as the villain Alec Trevelyan’s base in the climax of GoldenEye. It was also featured in the 1997 film Contact.
Despite its fame, Arecibo has faced not just environmental threats, but bureaucratic ones in the past. Prior to UCF’s involvement, budget concerns and damage from Hurricane Maria put the observatory’s operations in a precarious position.
Operations at Arecibo are currently halted until the damage can be repaired. No word yet on what causes the cable to break.
This is an ongoing story. We will update as new information becomes available.