‘It sounded like an avalanche’: Huge telescope collapses in Puerto Rico

A huge telescope collapsed Tuesday in Puerto Rico.

Many scientists and Puerto Ricans mourned the news, with some tearing up during interviews.

The iconic Arecibo Observatory radio telescope was featured in movies like “Contact” and played a significant role in space research, most recently through a partnership with the University of Central Florida.

Channel 9′s Nancy Alvarez visited the observatory in 2018 when it was on the verge of a new era: a $20 million grant from the national science foundation and a partnership with UCF.

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The 900 ton instrument platform suspended above the dish collapsed.

People who live nearby in Arecibo, on the the northern coast of the island, said it sounded like an avalanche.

The disaster came after a series of recent setbacks.

The Arecibo Observatory had been closed since August after a cable snapped and caused a 100-foot gash on the giant dish.

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Then a main cable broke in early November, leading the National Science Foundation to declare just weeks later that it planned to close the radio telescope because the damage was too great. The telescope was then decommissioned.

A group started a petition to find a way to save it.

It’s popularity with tourists was evident in social media post, photos of past visits and heartbreak over the loss of a source of pride for an island that’s been through so much.

The observatory played a central role in space science for 57 years.

In a statement, the National Science Foundation said it will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain their strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.

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UCF’s vice president for research issued a statement, saying in part:

“We knew this was a possibility, but it is still heartbreaking to see. We already have engineers on site to help assess the damage and determine the stability and safety of the remaining structure. We will continue to work to find ways to support the science mission at Arecibo.”

It is the second largest radio telescope in the world and had been operating for more than half a century.

Watch an interview with a UCF researcher who spearheaded the project below:

Nancy Alvarez

Nancy Alvarez, WFTV.com

I joined the Eyewitness News team in May 2010 and am currently co-anchor of Eyewitness News This Morning alongside Jamie Holmes.

Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.