These photos of the Arecibo Observatory telescope collapse are just heartbreaking

This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020.
This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. (Image credit: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images)

Gut-wrenching pictures and video documented the beginning of the end for one of the world's most iconic telescopes. 

The National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, known for its studies of asteroids and aliens and for its cameo in a James Bond film, collapsed this morning (Dec. 1). The 900-ton platform that hung above the radio dish fell 450 feet (140 meters) into the structure below around 8 a.m. local time, causing massive damage documented online.

The pictures of the destruction are sad, although the situation was not a surprise after the National Science Foundation announced days ago it would need to decommission the observatory following hurricane and cable damage at the famed observatory.

Related: The Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed

"We heard a loud sound, a loud bang outside the control room. We started to see the eventual downfall of the observatory," Ángel Vázquez, chief of telescope operations and a worker at Arecibo for four decades, said in a video posted on Twitter.

Pointing at a large poster-picture of the cables holding up Arecibo's platform, Vázquez said that through the past week those working at the observatory saw strands coming off the remaining three cables holding up the platform on one side. The strands were sure signs of more stress coming on the cables due to fewer of them holding up the platform's weight, he said.

"Eventually, it just gave way," he said. The other side of the platform still had cables under tension, he added, so the platform didn't suddenly fall, but took approximately 30 seconds to glide into the radio dish.

Related: Losing Arecibo Observatory creates a science hole that can't be filled

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Drone footage taken after the collapse shows the crumpled cable towers lying on top of the dish, with tower pieces and other debris scattered around the area. Numerous pictures posted on Getty Images by photographer Ricardo Arduengo of Agence France-Presse show the radio dish elements split in the middle from the force of the fall. 

"Engineers are on-site. Top priorities are maintaining safety at the site and assessing damage," NSF said on Twitter, along with a closeup of the damage showing crumpling in the radio telescope.

(Image credit: UCF)

(Image credit: UCF)

"We knew this was a possibility, but it is still heartbreaking to see," Elizabeth Klonoff, vice-president for research at UCF, said in an NSF statement. "Safety of personnel is our number one priority. 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 with the NSF and other stakeholders to find ways to support the science mission at Arecibo."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: