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Puerto Rico’s famous Arecibo Telescope collapses before planned demolition

It was the largest single aperture telescope in the world for for than 50 years.

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This undated handout photo provided by Seth Shostak, SETI Institute, shows the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The world’s largest single antenna, it has a million watt transmitter. Astronomers have their own cosmic version of the single person”

Seth Shostak, SETI Institute, Associated Press

The Arecibo Telescope at the National Science Foundation’s observatory in Puerto Rico, collapsed on the morning of Dec. 1.

According to Space.com, the famed telescope is best known for its studies of asteroids, aliens and its appearance in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye.”

The observatory included a 900-ton platform that was suspended above a giant radio dish by cables. Mere weeks after suffering damages from severe weather, the platform fell 450 feet and crashed into the dish below.

Astrophysicist Antonio Paris posted an image of the collapsed telescope on Twitter with the caption, “No words. Arecibo Observatory 1960-2020.”

CNN reports that the crash occurred several days after the National Science Foundation announced that the telescope would be permanently decommissioned and disassembled through a multi-week controlled demolition process.

Ángel Vázquez, the telescope’s director of operations, told the Associated Press that the collapse wasn’t a surprise because many of the wires in the thick cables holding the structure had snapped over the weekend before.

“It was a snowball effect,” Vázquez said. “There was no way to stop it.... It was too much for the old girl to take.”

Late Tuesday morning, the National Science Foundation tweeted that engineers were on site maintaining safety and assessing damages. The message was accompanied by a close up image of the wreckage. According to the Foundation, no one was injured during the collapse.

The Associated Press reports that the telescope was constructed in the 1960s with money from the Defense Department during a push to advance anti-ballistic missile defenses.

The telescope was used to track asteroids’ path to Earth, conduct research for Nobel Prize winning discoveries and also served as a training ground for graduate students, according to the site.

The towering instrument drew in about 90,000 visitors a year and it endured tropical humidity, hurricanes and earthquakes during its 57 years in operation.