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If ET Calls This Week, We Probably Won't Hear Him

Famous Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico is badly damaged by haywire cable
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2020 8:25 AM CDT

(Newser) – If aliens pick this month to finally send a message to us earthlings, we might not hear it. The famous Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, known for scanning the heavens in search of extraterrestrial signals, has been knocked out of commission for the near future by a giant cable that snapped in the middle of the night on Monday, reports Live Science. If you've seen the Jodie Foster movie Contact, you've seen Arecibo. The damage is extensive, including a 100-foot gash in the telescope's dish. A large dome suspended over the dish also got hit, notes Wired. The University of Central Florida, which operates the behemoth observatory, says it's unclear when the telescope might be up and running again, but operations have been suspended for at least two weeks while researchers try to figure out what happened.

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Arecibo was long the biggest telescope in the world, though it lost that distinction a few years ago to a new one in China. And while it may be best known to laymen for its work in the search for extraterrestrial life, or SETI, Arecibo has been "a mainstay of radio astronomy, atmospheric research, and planetary science" for about 60 years now, per Science. Some notable moments in its history: In 1974, it transmitted a binary code to a cluster of stars 25,000 light-years away in the hope that another civilization might receive the message. And in 1994, it discovered the first evidence of a planet in orbit around another star, per Wired. (Scientists have an unusually specific guess on how many alien civilizations may be out there and able to communicate with us.)

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