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Second Cable Snaps On Arecibo Observatory, Causing More Damage To Dish

The main collecting dish is among the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes. The reflective dish is 1,000 feet in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. Photo: UCF

A second cable snapped on the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, causing more damage to the reflective dish below. The asteroid-hunting telescope has been out of service since August.

The second cable snapped Friday, causing additional damage to the dish and other supporting cables.

Engineers are still investigating the first accident, where a main cable slipped out of its socket back in August, sending a support structure crashing into the massive dish below.

The second cable that failed was attached to the same support structure — leading observatory managers to think an increase in stress from the first cable led to the second snapping.

“This is certainly not what we wanted to see, but the important thing is that no one got hurt,” said Francisco Cordova, the director of the observatory. “We have been thoughtful in our evaluation and prioritized safety in planning for repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this. There is much uncertainty until we can stabilize the structure. It has our full attention. We are evaluating the situation with our experts and hope to have more to share soon.”

The team will now focus on relieving the tension in the existing cables and installing temporary supports. The University of Central Florida, which partly runs the observatory, requested supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation to repair damage from the first accident.

It’s unclear just how much additional money or time it will take to bring the observatory back online.

The Arecibo Observatory is home to one of the most powerful telescopes on the planet, conducting research in  atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy and radar astronomy.

UCF manages the facility under a cooperative agreement with Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc. for the NSF.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »