The iconic Arecibo telescope faces an imminent, catastrophic collapse. Engineers are now racing to deconstruct it.

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One of the most iconic astronomical observatories has fallen apart beyond repair. Now it threatens to collapse entirely.Following two unexpected cable breaks, engineers have determined that the Arecibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope is so structurally unsound that any workers who try to fix it would be risking their lives. So the National Science Foundation, which owns the Puerto Rico telescope, has decided to decommission it.Now engineers are racing to figure out how to safely deconstruct one of the largest radio telescopes before it collapses on itself. The structure is so unstable that engineers can’t even approach it to evaluate the risk and timing of such a collapse.”Even attempts at stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure,” Ralph Gaume, the director of the NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, said in a press conference Thursday morning.

‘It’s like losing someone important in your life’In its 57-year lifetime, the Arecibo telescope has hunted for hazardous near-Earth asteroids, searched for signs of alien life, and discovered the first planet beyond our solar system. In 1974, Arecibo beamed out the most powerful broadcast Earth has ever sent to communicate with aliens if they’re out there. In 2016, it …

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