In better times. Photo taken in Spring 2019. Credit: UCF


The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has suffered loss of cables in August and this month that supports the facility’s 900-ton platform.

“Each of the structure’s remaining cables is now supporting more weight than before, increasing the likelihood of another cable failure, which would likely result in the collapse of the entire structure,” explains a University of Central Florida statement.

UCF manages the facility owned by the National Science Foundation.

Other wire breaks on two of the remaining main cables have also been observed. The situation is dynamic and poses a serious safety risk to those working at the giant radio telescope. Work is underway to understand why this “industrial failure” occurred, according to UCF.

Recent photo taken via drone of the Arecibo Observatory after a main cable broke on Nov. 6.
Credit: UCF

An auxiliary cable break occurred on August 10, followed by a main cable failure on November 6.

“Safety remains the team’s primary concern, so a safety zone has been set up around the reflector dish and only personnel needed to respond to the incident are allowed onsite,” according to the UCF statement.

“Preliminary analysis indicates the main cable, which failed on Nov. 6, should have easily handled the extra load based on design capacity,” the UCF statement notes. “Engineers suspect it is likely that the second cable failed because it has degraded over time and has been carrying extra load since August. A final determination could not be made without retrieving and analyzing the second cable.”

On a personal note: Barbara and I were fortunate to visit Arecibo in 1992, 
guided up to the facility centerpiece by SETI Institute’s Peter Backus. I’m still shaking – but what a view!

Cable car ride to the centerpiece!
Credit: Leonard David/Inside Outer Space

Much younger in 1992!
Credit: Peter Backus

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