A huge US space telescope deep in the jungle of Puerto Rica will close after suffering two catastrophic disasters in recent months, ending 57 years of astronomical discoveries.
Operations at Arecibo Observatory, one of the largest in the world, stopped in August when one of its support cables slipped out of its socket, falling and breaking a 30-meter (100-foot) 305-meter (1,000-foot) wide reflector hole. .
Another cable then broke earlier this month, tearing a new hole in the plate and destroying nearby cables as engineers tried to devise a plan to maintain the disability.
Accidents at the site – also known as the backdrop for James Bond’s Golden Bye, as well as contact with Jodie Foster – prompted the US National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency, to call time for the installation.
“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305-meter telescope cannot be remedied without endangering the lives and safety of staff and staff,” said Sean Jones, Assistant Director of Mathematics and Science at NSF.
“NSF has decided to start the design process for a controlled decommissioning,” Jones said.
Engineers have not yet determined the cause of the original cable failure, an NSF spokesman said.
The huge reflector of the observatory and a structure of 816 tons hanging 137 meters above it, is located in the wet forests of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, has been used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyze distant planets, find potentially dangerous asteroids and hunt for extraterrestrial signatures.
The telescope helped detect the asteroid Bennu near Earth in 1999, which laid the groundwork for Nasa to send a robotic probe there to collect and eventually return the first sample of asteroid dirt about two decades later.
An engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida, which manages the NSF Observatory under a five-year, $ 20 million deal, concluded at a university report last week that “if an additional main cable fails, a catastrophic collapse the structure will soon follow “.
Citing security concerns, the company ruled out repairing the observatory and recommended a controlled demolition.