World’s most powerful telescope damaged after cables snaps, creating 100-foot hole

UCF manages the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

Damage to the Arecibo Observatory collecting dish. (Image: UCF) (WKMG 2020)

Arecibo Observatory, the most powerful telescope in the world, located in Puerto Rico, was damaged Monday after a cable snapped and tore a large hole in the telescope’s reflector dish.

The University of Central Florida manages the National Science Foundation facility, along with Universidad Ana G. Mendez and Yang Enterprises. Located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the telescope was still undergoing repairs from Hurricane Marie in 2017. Despite causing $14 million in damages to the observatory the facility was open again seven days after the storm.

According to a news release from UCF, an auxiliary cable that helps support the metal platform above the observatory broke around 2:45 a.m. Monday. When the cable fell, it damaged six to eight panels in the Gregorian Dome, the largest part of the dish, and twisted the platform workers use to access to the dome. Officials don’t know what caused the cable to break.

The reflective dish of the Observatory is one of the largest in the world at 1,000 feet in diameter and 167 feet deep. It covers an area of about 20 acres, according to UCF. For years Arecibo was also the largest telescope but earlier this year China opened its FAST Observatory which spans more than 1,600 feet.

Photos shared by UCF show the extent of the damage as a large gaping hole was torn through the dome. It’s unclear how long repairs will take as the damage is still being assessed.

The damaged Observatory will be a huge blow to the radio astronomy community and scientists who rely on it for research in understanding the universe.

Arecibo is used by scientists around the world for research on astronomy, planetary science, to track near Earth asteroids and more.

Prior to this incident, the telescope has survived numerous natural disasters, including hurricanes and earthquakes.

Full Screen
1 / 7

The 1,000-foot spherical reflector at the Arecibo Observatory near Arecibo, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Kellen Harrel/WKMG)