Today's unusual story was found and shared by E.J., to whom many thanks. I wouldn't be blogging about it except that something in the article caught my eye. The accident occurred at the giant reflector dish of Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio-telescope, which has had its fair share of strange events and attention. For example, as the article itself points out, the telescope was seen in the final scenes of the James Bond movie Golden Eye, as Bond (Pierce Brosnan) battled it out above the huge dish with the villain of the movie, played by Sean Bean. Similarly, the telescope was featured by reference in an episode of The X-Files, where Fox Mulder is sent by a U.S. Senator to retrieve original tapes of a signal from outer space intercepted by the telescope that was "proof" of extraterrestrial life, a veiled reference to the so-called "Wow" signal received in 1977 by Ohio State University's radio telescope. The big dish was featured yet again in the movie Contact. At least as far as science fiction goes, in other words, the facility is deliberately associated with "what's going on out there."
So here's the article:
The story is simple enough: a support cable holding up the platform above the dish that contains the actual equipment for signals receiving, snapped, broke loose, and as a result, severely damaged the reflector dish of the telescope:
On Monday (Aug. 10), an auxiliary cable supporting a platform that is suspended above the 1,000-foot-wide (300 meters) radio dish broke and crashed into the telescope's reflector panels, creating a gash in the dish measuring about 100 feet (30 m) long.
In a news conference with reporters Friday (Aug. 14), Arecibo director Francisco Cordova said that 250 of the observatory's primary reflector dish panels were damaged, along with several support cables underneath the dish. But observatory officials have not yet fully assessed the extent of the damage or determined the cost of the repairs needed to get the 56-year-old radio telescope — once the largest single radio dish on Earth — back in action.
So in other words, the world's largest single dish radio telescope is out of action, unable to function. Additionally, the failure was sudden, and has left the equipment platform above the dish twisted, with the damage to the equipment suite as yet unassessed:
Cordova said that the auxiliary cable was designed to last at least another 15 to 20 years, so it's not clear why the cable failed. It was one of several auxiliary cables that were added to the observatory in the 1990s to help support a new addition to the telescope, called the Gregorian dome, which houses an antenna receiver on the platform.
In a statement issued Monday, UCF officials said that about six to eight panels on the Gregorian dome had been damaged by the broken cable, and that the platform used to access the dome was left slightly twisted. But it's not yet clear if the instruments inside the dome had been affected, Cordova said, adding that officials were still inspecting the damages.
Now with all the weird space stuff going on lately, plus the general mystique of the place associated with its appearances in fiction films and television series, you can color me skeptical at least, if not intensely curious. But then there's this picture, from the article, that really grabbed my attention, for as the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words:
Damaged Cable at Arecibo
What struck me about this cable was the appearance and suggestion it gives of a single point of failure, almost appearing as if someone had taken an immense saw and cut straight through the cable. It also reminded me of something else, another picture from decades ago, involving a another catastrophic failure, and cabling:
Suspension Cable of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) after her catastrophic failure
It's that disturbing picture from Galloping Gertie's cable, plus the nearly clean "cut-like" nature of the Arecibo cable, that has my mind deeply into the red zone on my suspicion meter, for while there are similarities, there are differences. The Galloping Gertie example shows cabling that clearly has snapped due to the immense stresses put upon it during the bridge's failure. But notably, the cable itself did not break and fail. The bridge's failure was due to other reasons we needn't get into here. The cabling we see from the Galloping Gertie example is of several strands of the cable that snapped under that stress, and as one can see, the result is a tangle of cabling spaghetti.
The Arecibo cabling, while showing a little of the "spaghetti", shows something in the main quite different, and there's no other way to put it than that it shows a sudden, sharp and mostly failure due to unknown stresses, or it's showing evidence of possible deliberate sabotage.
But if the latter, then Who? and Why?
See you on the flip side...