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The wondrous life—and dramatic death—of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory

If a telescope’s 900-ton platform falls in a forest, it most definitely makes a sound. On 1 December 2020, a monumental collapse at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory unleashed a monstrous roar across the tree-covered karst landscape. In the rubble lay key components of a telescope that had delivered some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past half-century: indirect evidence of gravitational waves, a map of the surface of Venus, and detection of the first exoplanets.

But Arecibo was more than just a scientific powerhouse. It was also a cultural icon. The telescope’s singular appearance led to cameos in movies, including Contact and GoldenEye. This video is a virtual tour of the technological advances that led to the telescope’s profound achievements—and a visual timeline of the momentous events that made up its life and death.