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Arecibo radio telescope, damaged beyond repair, seen from space

Satellites spotted gashes in the damaged Arecibo Observatory, which is set to be decommissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

The 57-year-old radio telescope has sustained two cable failures which has made its massive dish too unstable to safely repair, according to the NSF. The cable failures have also damaged the massive dish, which spans a whopping 1,000 feet (305 meters) across, gouging holes in its delicate metal panels.

Those holes in the telescope's large dish and vegetation growing below the historic piece of technology can be seen from space in a new, high-resolution satellite image taken by the Dove satellite constellation operated by Planet, a company based in California. The image was produced on request from Nature, according to a statement (opens in new tab)

Related: Losing Arecibo Observatory would create a hole that can't be filled

The NSF will decommission the telescope on account of the damage, the agency announced at a news conference held on Nov. 19

"According to engineering assessments, even attempts of stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure," Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF's astronomy division, said during the news conference. "Engineers cannot tell us the safety margin of the structure, but they have advised NSF that the structure will collapse in the near future on its own."

Maxar's WorldView satellite also recently imaged the observatory from space. 

In the satellite imagery you can see small green spots dotting the gray dish. That greenery is plant life local to Puerto Rico, where the observatory sits, growing below the dish and seen through gashes left by the two cable failures that happened in August and in November.

When the first cable slipped, it hit panels around the edge of the telescope's dish; when the second cable broke, it tore large rips in the interior of the dish, according to Nature (opens in new tab)

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music, singing, playing guitar and performing with her band Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.