In very belated telescope news (it’s been a long week), the Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope finally crumbled on December 1, 2020, and the event was captured on camera.
The telescope’s fall actually began back in August, when Tropical Storm Isais struck the area, leading to a snapped support cable. The cable was one of many that helped support the receiver platform high above the telescope’s 1,000-foot-diameter dish.
In November, a second cable snapped, leading the National Science Foundation to determine that the telescope was no longer salvageable. At that point, they intended to dismantle the whole thing, despite petitions to save it.
However, last week, fate beat them to the punch — the remaining cables broke, sending the 900-ton platform crashing down onto the reflector dish and leaving the Arecibo Telescope completely destroyed.
The Arecibo Observatory, located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, has a long and storied history, both here in the real world and in paranormal fiction like The X-Files and Contact. Built in 1963, the observatory is perhaps most prominently known, at least around these parts, for its role in the attempted communication with intelligent extraterrestrial life.
In 1974, SETI researchers used the radio telescope to beam their Arecibo Message into space. The message was sent in the form of frequency modulated radio waves, and contained information about humans, our Solar System, and even the observatory itself. Of course, we won’t know if any aliens picked up the message until we get a response. Or have we already?
Footage of the collapse surfaced a few days after the initial news hit. It contains video from both the control tower camera and drones.
While the telescope is clearly out of commission, both LIDAR facilities and the visitor center were spared.
Personally, I’ll always remember the Arecibo Telescope not for its use in the hunt for ETs or other paranormal matters, but for its starring role in the final climactic battle of GoldenEye.
Don’t forget — it fell back then, too.