Earthquake Damage Has This Giant Telescope Hanging by a Thread

Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, should look familiar to anyone who watched GoldenEye or Contact a lot as a kid. But an earthquake near the observatory did some serious damage last month, nearly snapping one of the cables supporting the reflector platform hovering 450 feet in the air. Talk about a big oops!

Located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the Cornell University-operated observatory is a monstrous device, the 1,000-foot-diameter concave reflector steering incoming waves to the nearly 1,000-ton platform suspended above. Eighteen cables strung between three concrete towers are tasked with the job, and when a 6.4-magnitude quake struck on January 13th, it did some serious damage to one of those cables.

In fact, the cable that got the most damage was a known weak point. During the observatory's construction in 1962, a too-short cable was lengthened with a splice, and when the quake hit, that patched cable lost several strands. As Arecibo Observatory Director Bob Kerr told Universe Today, "you might say that our structural Achilles heel was exposed."

Thankfully, the telescope remains functional, and it's being used with a reduced range of motion while a New York bridge construction company and Arecibo's maintenance staff plan a long-term repair. We sure hope they can fix it, and continue on a 50 year history of helping us learn about the universe around us. [Universe Today]

Image courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF