The National Science Foundation released stunning video footage Thursday capturing the exact dramatic moment the Arecibo Observatory's 900-ton platform fell into the 1,000-foot wide dish below. A drone happened to be performing an up-close investigation of the cables that still held the platform above the dish as the cables snapped on Tuesday.
The video of the massive radio telescope shows both the drone footage and the view from a camera in the visitor center that shows the platform falling into the dish just above the jungle floor in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Two massive chunks of the cement towers that the cables were attached to can also be seen falling.
Two of the cables had previously broken, one in August and another in November, destabilizing the telescope.
A drone was inspecting the site atop one of the towers, where one of the previous cable breaks had occurred, when the rest suddenly snapped.
The NSF had recently decided to decommission the telescope after a second cable broke in November.
"It was a dangerous situation," John Abruzzo, who is with an engineering consulting firm called Thornton Tomasetti that was contracted by the NSF, told reporters Thursday. "Those cables could have failed at any time."
On Tuesday, they did.
The NSF reports that no one was injured in the collapse and that the visitor center sustained only minor damage.
The telescope, which functioned for nearly 60 years, was the backdrop to a dramatic fight scene in the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye with Pierce Brosnan. It also appeared in the 1997 Jodie Foster movie Contact. But Arecibo's true legacy lies in the many scientific discoveries it made possible. It explored pulsars, expanded our knowledge of Mercury, spotted exoplanets and found fast radio bursts.