On August 10th of this year, the Arecibo Observatory, a large telescope located in Puerto Rico and famous for tracking asteroids and helping with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), was damaged in pieces after a metal cable above the structure came loose in the middle of the night and crashed through the radar dish below.
One month later, officials at the facility still have no idea what caused the enigmatic midnight malfunction, but the recovery attempts are underway. The officials also reported via the University of Central Florida (UCF) that they plan to begin a full ‘forensic investigation’ into the issue immediately after the facility’s safety can be ensured.
“We know the process is taking a long time, and we are eager to begin repairs,” Arecibo Observatory Director Francisco Cordova said in the statement. “But before they can remove the broken pieces and get to work, they need to make sure it’s safe to put people on the telescope.”
Arecibo began operations back in 1963, and it became the largest single-dish telescope in the world, expanding across 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter. However, last month’s cable collapse created a 100-foot-long (30 meters) hole in the radar dish, making it immediately suspend operations, as per UCF. The cable also hit through a few other cables and platforms that support the dish.
Since the incident, UCF and its partners, including NASA and the National Science Foundation, have begun analyzing the damage by building a complex computer model of the telescope. Engineers will then assay the model before sending humans to the site. Initial tests of the structure’s receivers showed no signs of damage to the electronics inside, but the team has yet to test the telescope’s critical s-band radar, which identifies microwave signals from distant stars, galaxies, and nebulas.
As soon as the site’s safety is guaranteed, a repair team will extract the broken cable and its socket and begin their forensic examination. Meanwhile, two projects that aren’t linked to the main dish – Arecibo’s Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) program and the Remote Optical Facility (ROF) – continue to operate, UCF reported.