On August 10, 2020, the huge Arecibo Observatory telescope in Puerto Rico was damaged and shut down when a single cable mysteriously broke and swung wildly around, causing a 100-foot-long gash on the telescope’s reflector dish. This dish is managed by the University of Central Florida and is a key tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The telescope was shut down immediately and repairs began once the damage was assessed, but progress has been painstakingly slow and a cause has still not been determined. In the meantime, conspiracy theories abound, including one that the dish was sabotaged to prevent the discovery and revelation that an incoming asteroid was actually an ET spaceship. Well, get your conspiracy theory generators fired up again – on November 6, another cable mysteriously broke free, this time a main cable, and the dish sustained further damage. I’m not saying it’s aliens … but it’s a good bet someone else might. Is it?
“This is certainly not what we wanted to see, but the important thing is that no one got hurt. We have been thoughtful in our evaluation and prioritized safety in planning for repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this. There is much uncertainty until we can stabilize the structure. It has our full attention. We are evaluating the situation with our experts and hope to have more to share soon.”
In a UCF press release, Francisco Cordova, the director of the observatory, gave a brief update on the situation at Arecibo. There is fear that the second break will put additional and potentially damaging tension on the remaining cables. While UCF claimed to have sufficient funds to make the repairs caused by the August 10 cable break, it has no idea what the new repairs will cost nor whether there are funds in the budget.
“This is not good, but we remain committed to getting the facility back online. It’s just too important of a tool for the advancement of science.”
The main telescope first went operational in 1963 and has been updated a number of times without problems. It has also survived numerous severe hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes, so these two mysterious breaks so close together with no apparent outside cause are ripe for conspiratorial and ET speculation, especially since the facility is responsible for sending the Arecibo message – a 1974 interstellar radio message carrying basic information about humanity and Earth -- to globular star cluster M13. Has anyone checked with other SETI telescope sites, like FAST in China, to see if there are any incoming messages wondering why they’re getting a busy signal from Arecibo? (Busy signal? Ask your grandparents to explain.)
For now, we hope for the best and will continue to monitor the old and new repairs, along with any other mysterious occurrences, at the Arecibo telescope.