One of the World’s Largest Radio Telescopes Gets Damaged

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. gash / gæʃ / (n) – a long deep cut or wound

    After falling down the stairs, she discovered a gash in her leg.

  2. auxiliary / ɔgˈzɪl yə ri / (adj) – providing extra power, help, or support

    The hospital has auxiliary nursing staff who provide support during emergencies.

  3. flail / fleɪl / (v) – to wave, swing, or move in a wild or uncontrolled manner

    The drunk man flailed around on the dance floor.

  4. sustain / səˈsteɪn / (v) – to undergo or experience something bad or unpleasant

    Many businesses sustained losses during the economic crisis.

  5. defect / ˈdi fɛkt / (n) – a problem that affects the function of something

    Thankfully, the pre-owned laptop I bought online has no defects.


Read the text below.

A broken steel cable severely damaged the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

Arecibo, an observatory supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been an important tool for astronomical research for almost 60 years. Last August, the Arecibo radio telescope, one of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes, shut down after a broken steel cable created a 30-meter gash on its 307-meter-wide reflector dish.

The snapped cable was an auxiliary one that supported a metal platform with a large antenna. Florida Space Institute director Ramon Lugo said the broken steel cable had a lot of stored energy, which caused it to flail around, damaging parts of the telescope.

As investigations took place, observations in the facility were suspended. The cost of the damage has not been determined, and Lugo said the repairs may take days or even months.

Lugo added that the telescope had sustained damage when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, but he believes that the damage caused by the hurricane is not related to the recent event. He said that if the cable’s snapping turns out to be caused by a manufacturing defect, the facility will have to check the other auxiliary cables as well.

Arecibo’s status in the scientific community has been uncertain over the past few years. The observatory’s significance has decreased as newer facilities continue to open, and the NSF reduced its funding to support other projects. According to Lugo, the recent incident, in addition to the one that took place in 2017, will likely open a discussion on Arecibo’s future. However, Lugo assured that they will remain focused on restoring the telescope.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think anything could have been done to prevent the latest event? Why or why not? Discuss.
• Do you think the government should continue funding scientific equipment like Arecibo? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• Do you think damaged scientific equipment like the Arecibo radio telescope is still worth restoring? Why or why not?
• What do you think should be done to old or damaged scientific equipment (e.g. be donated to schools/museums, have useful parts recycled)?