See unreal drone footage of Arecibo Observatory’s catastrophic collapse

The National Science Foundation on Thursday released remarkable video footage capturing the 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.  

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The Arecibo telescope’s 900-ton platform has crashed into its disk below and destroyed the iconic radio observatory



a close up of a flower garden: This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images


© Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

The second-largest radio telescope in the world is no more.

The Arecibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot-diameter telescope collapsed at about 7:55 a.m. Tuesday in Puerto Rico. The telescope’s 900-ton platform, which was suspended 450 feet in the air to send and receive radio waves, crashed into its disk below, pulling down with it the tops of three support towers.

“Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed,” Deborah Martorell, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday morning.

Before-and-after images show how the platform fell.

The collapse was not unexpected: Following two cable breaks in August and November, experts determined that the radio telescope was so structurally unsound that it had to be decommissioned.

On November 19, the National Science Foundation, which owned the telescope, tasked engineers with deconstructing it. That was supposed to take about five or six weeks, but the iconic telescope couldn’t last that long.

The foundation published video footage of the collapse on Thursday, captured from a nearby control tower.

 

Nobody was injured in the collapse, the NSF said in a statement, since the area had been cleared after the second cable failure.

“I feel sick in my stomach,” Ramon Lugo, the director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida, who managed the telescope, told Science on Tuesday. “Truthfully, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people trying to restore this facility. It’s disappointing we weren’t successful. It’s really a hard morning.”

‘It’s like losing someone important in your life’



a person walking down a dirt road: The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope's main dish on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images


© Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope’s main dish on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

In its 57 years of operation, the Arecibo telescope hunted for hazardous near-Earth asteroids, searched for signs of alien life, and discovered the first planet beyond our solar system.

In 1974, Arecibo beamed the most powerful broadcast Earth has ever sent to communicate with aliens if they’re out there. In 2016, it detected the first repeating fast radio bursts – mysterious space signals that scientists now think come from dead stars.

But Arecibo’s woes began in August, shortly after Tropical Storm Isaias passed over Puerto Rico. A 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable popped out of its socket on one of the telescope’s three towers and crashed into the 1,000-foot reflector dish below. It tore a 100-foot gash in the panels.



a close up of some grass: A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10. Arecibo Observatory


© Arecibo Observatory
A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10. Arecibo Observatory

Then in early November, just before repairs were set to begin in earnest, a 15,000-pound main cable from the same tower broke and crashed into the dish. Engineers

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Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapses ahead of planned demolition

The instrument platform of the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight, according to the National Science Foundation.



a train traveling over Arecibo Observatory: Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope in November of 2020.


© University of Central Florida
Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope in November of 2020.

It’s a final blow to one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth that has aided astronomical discoveries for 57 years and withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and tropical storms.

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Engineers assessed the damage and determined that all three of the telescope’s support towers broke off, sending the 900-ton instrument platform plummeting down to the dish below. The telescope’s support cables also dropped. The observatory’s learning center was significantly damaged by the falling cables as well.

The collapse occurred just weeks after NSF announced that the telescope would be decommissioned and disassembled through a controlled demolition after sustaining irreparable damage earlier this year.

“The instrument platform of the 305m telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fell overnight. No injuries were reported. NSF is working with stakeholders to assess the situation. Our top priority is maintaining safety. NSF will release more details when they are confirmed,” according to a tweet by the National Science Foundation.

“NSF is saddened by this development. As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” the foundation said in another tweet.

The spherical radio/radar telescope includes a radio dish 1,000 feet across and a 900-ton instrument platform suspended 450 feet above it. Cables connected to three towers hold the telescope in place.

“We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. “When engineers advised NSF that the structure was unstable and presented a danger to work teams and Arecibo staff, we took their warnings seriously and continued to emphasize the importance of safety for everyone involved. Our focus is now on assessing the damage, finding ways to restore operations at other parts of the observatory, and working to continue supporting the scientific community, and the people of Puerto Rico.”

An auxiliary cable came loose from a socket on one of the towers in August, creating a 100-foot gash in the dish. Engineers were assessing and working on a plan to repair the damage when another main cable on the tower broke on November 6.

When it broke, the cable crashed into the reflector dish below, causing additional damage.

After the break on November 6, engineers inspected the rest of the cables and discovered new breaks as well as slippage from some of the sockets on the towers. Multiple engineering companies reviewed the damage. They determined that the telescope could collapse because it is “in danger of catastrophic failure” and the cables were weaker than expected.

The latest review revealed that damage to the telescope could not be stabilized without risking staff and the construction team. This led to the NSF making the decision to decommission the telescope after 57 years.

“We believe

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Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory ‘not closing’ after collapse

The instrument platform of the Arecibo Observatory telescope falls through the air after cables broke
The instrument platform of the Arecibo Observatory telescope falls through the air after cables broke

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory could still have a future after its vast telescope dramatically collapsed this week, US officials said Thursday.

The structure was destroyed on Tuesday when its 900-ton receiver platform, which was suspended 450 feet (140 meters) in the air, fell loose and plunged onto the radio dish below.

Ralph Gaume, director of the US National Science Foundation’s division of astronomical sciences, said “the NSF is not closing the Arecibo Observatory.”

“The NSF is deeply saddened by the situation,” he told reporters, adding that the agency “has a very well-defined process for funding and constructing large-scale infrastructure including telescopes… it’s very early for us to comment on the replacement.”

Engineers had recently warned of the telescope’s decrepit condition, and the NSF announced only last month that it would be dismantled.

Two of the cables that held the platform over the radio dish—which measures 1,000 feet (300 meters) in diameter—had snapped this year, and the structure finally gave way on Tuesday morning.

Video footage showed the final cables breaking, and the platform swinging down onto the radio dish before a cloud of dust erupts.

Engineers had recently warned of the telescope's decrepit condition
Engineers had recently warned of the telescope’s decrepit condition

The telescope was one of the largest in the world and has been a tool for many astronomical discoveries since the 1960s.

An action scene from the James Bond film “GoldenEye” featuring Pierce Brosnan was filming at the site.


Huge Puerto Rico radio telescope, already damaged, collapses


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Destruction of Arecibo Observatory an ‘incalculable’ loss for struggling Puerto Rico

Génesis Ferrer had dreamed of working in the Arecibo Observatory ever since she first met some of its astrophysicists during a high school trip in Puerto Rico.



a tree with Arecibo Observatory in the background


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After hearing them use terms such as “radiation” and “emission,” Ferrer, 21, said she “just fell in love with the entire idea of being able to understand things so far away.” Like many scientists in the U.S. territory, Ferrer can trace back her interest in astrophysics, biophysics and space to that school trip.

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The fourth-year physics student from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, had recently earned a fellowship from the Puerto Rico NASA Space Consortium to study emissions from red dwarf stars using the giant radio telescope in Arecibo. Because of coronavirus restrictions, Ferrer has been accessing the data she needs from the Arecibo Observatory remotely, hoping she would soon be able to finish her investigation in the place where it all started.

Those hopes faded away Tuesday morning when the Arecibo Observatory collapsed. The telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform and the Gregorian dome — a structure as tall as a four-story building that houses secondary reflectors — fell onto the northern portion of the vast reflector dish more than 400 feet below after the main cables holding up the structures broke overnight.

“I was very sad, very disappointed,” Ferrer told NBC News. “I worked so hard to finally get accepted to work in the Arecibo Observatory. And now that I got accepted, I can’t work in it. I felt very sad, not only individually, but I also saw it as a very sad thing for Puerto Rico and the science in Puerto Rico.”

The Arecibo Observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world and a point of pride for Puerto Ricans, whether they were in science or not. About 90,000 islanders and tourists visited the observatory every year, a boon to the region.

During its almost 57 years in operation, the observatory built with money from the U.S. Department of Defense has been at the forefront of space research — and a crucial training ground for space science students.

In August, the observatory started crumbling after an auxiliary cable snapped, causing damage to the telescope’s dish and the receiver platform that hung above it, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation, the federal agency that owns the observatory. In an attempt to prevent “an uncontrolled collapse” in order to “safely preserve other parts of the observatory that could be damaged or destroyed,” the agency said it began its plan to decommission the telescope in mid-November.

“The NSF was taking a long time to do this because they have a series of protocols they have to follow,” said Abel Méndez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo campus, and a planetary astrobiologist. “We thought they had an emergency plan that could speed things up.”

But the cables failed before the agency was able to preserve the telescope.

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Photos show the Arecibo telescope before and after collapse

  • The Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope collapsed Tuesday morning, when its 900-ton suspended platform crashed into the enormous dish below.
  • Arecibo was one of Earth’s best radio astronomy tools for 57 years. Its death is a blow to asteroid-tracking efforts and the hunt for alien life.
  • Photos of the iconic telescope show what it looked like before and after the crash.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Arecibo Observatory’s enormous radio telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning. Its 900-ton platform crashed into the 1,000-foot-side disk below, yanking down the tops of three support towers as it fell. 

The demise was not entirely a surprise. After the telescope suffered two cable breaks in August and November, the National Science Foundation, which owns the telescope, determined it was too structurally unsound for workers to repair safely. The Foundation decommissioned the Puerto Rico telescope in late November, and engineers were working to figure out how to deconstruct it. But the platform crashed before that work could progress.

arecibo telescope collapse thumb  2x1

Juxtaposed screen grabs from a video taken by the Arecibo Observatory show the telescope’s platform as it fell.

Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a US National Science Foundation facility


“Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed,” Deborah Martorell, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday morning.

Before the crash, the telescope’s massive platform hung 450 feet in the air above its giant bowl-shaped disk. The disk reflected radio waves from space to instruments on the suspended platform.

arecibo observatory puerto rico

The Arecibo Observatory in 2012. The Gregorian Dome hangs over the 1,000-foot reflector dish.


Universal Images Group via Getty Images



But on Tuesday morning, cables that connected the platform to one of the towers snapped, sending it plummeting down.

Jonathan Friedman, who has worked on the Arecibo Observatory’s scientific staff since 1993, told local news outlet NotiCentro the collapse sounded like the rumble of an earthquake, a train, or an avalanche.

arecibo observatory damage platform receiver crash

The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope’s main dish on December 1, 2020.


Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images



A life spent hunting asteroids and starring in movies

Since it was completed in 1963, the Arecibo telescope has played a role in some of humanity’s most exciting findings about space.

It discovered the first known planet beyond our solar system, sent out powerful broadcasts for potential aliens to intercept, and tracked potentially hazardous asteroids to see whether they could hit Earth. 

It even helped scientists confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity by detecting the first binary pulsar: a highly magnetized, compact star orbiting another star.

Arecibo also enabled researchers to hunt for radio waves from potential alien technology. The only other radio telescope that equals Arecibo’s former power is China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).  

The telescope’s scale and setting also led it to a life onscreen: It starred in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye” and the 1997 movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster.

contact jodi foster arecibo telescope

Jodi Foster in the film “Contact,” which is based on a

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Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video

Snap.



a metal fence: Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video


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Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video

The legendary 1,000-foot-wide Arecibo Observatory’s telescope, a giant dish embedded in the verdant Puerto Rico forest, experienced a major collapse on Dec. 1. A 900-ton platform suspended over the observatory fell, destroying much of the already crumbling dish. On Wednesday, the U.S. National Science Foundation released footage of the collapse:

  • At 10 seconds into the video below, a camera affixed to a tower captures a cable snapping, and then the platform falls. Dust soon rises from the destruction. 

  • Just after the one-minute mark, a drone was in opportunistic position to film cables violently snapping from a support tower. 

The collapse was a dramatic end for the historic observatory. “I feel sick in my stomach,” Ramon Lugo, a former NASA engineer who manages Arecibo for the National Science Foundation, told Science the morning of the collapse. “Truthfully, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people trying to restore this facility. It’s disappointing we weren’t successful. It’s really a hard morning.” 

Credit: Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a U.S. National Science Foundation facility 

In nearly 60 years of peering into space, the powerful Arecibo Observatory, and its astronomers, made legendary discoveries. Arecibo spotted the first-ever exoplanet (a planet beyond our solar system) and the first organic molecules in a galaxy 250 million light-years away, supported Nobel Prize winning-research, and detected around 100 near-Earth asteroids (some that could potentially pose a danger to Earth) each year.

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Famously, Arecibo also scoured the skies for signals from intelligent alien life. (We haven’t received any signals, that we’re aware of, yet.)

The National Science Foundation knew the observatory was in dire straits. Just 12 days before the collapse, the organization announced plans to decommission the telescope, as it had fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair. The organization had reduced funding for the aging observatory as it looked for outside financial partners.

Meanwhile, nature gradually degraded the structure: Earthquakes and infamous Hurricane Maria damaged the aging telescope. Then in August 2020, the first cable broke, leaving a telltale 100-foot gash in the radar dish. 

More cables would soon fail.

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Video: Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico collapses after cables snap

The second-largest radio telescope in the world collapsed on Tuesday morning.

The Arecibo Observatory’s 900-ton platform, which sent and received radio waves and was suspended 450 feet in the air, crashed into the 1,000-foot-wide disk below. When it fell, it pulled down with the tops of three surrounding support towers.

Videos of the crash show that it began when cables that connected the hanging platform to one of the towers snapped. Previously, an auxiliary cable on that same tower broke in August, then one of its main cables broke in November. Since then, the National Science Foundation, which owns Arecibo, had been rushing to disassemble the telescope, since it was clear a complete collapse was possible.

But the platform fell before engineers made much headway in the deconstruction process.

Jonathan Friedman, who has been part of the Arecibo Observatory’s scientific staff since 1993, told local news outlet NotiCentro the collapse sounded like the rumble of an earthquake, a train, or an avalanche.

The video below, captured from a nearby control tower, shows the platform falling at 7:54 a.m. local time. A cable takes out the catwalk that allowed engineers to access the platform. The top of the tower where the cables broke, visible in the background, then falls. Then the top of another broken tower comes rolling down the hillside on the left.

“As you can see, this was a very violent and kind of unpredictable failure,” Ashley Zauderer, NSF program manager for the Arecibo Observatory, said in a briefing on Thursday.

In a separate video, drone footage shows the cables snapping and the resulting crash from above. The drone happened to be doing reconnaissance over the telescope’s platform at that moment, since drone surveillance was a key source of information for engineers trying to figure out how to deconstruct the telescope. Due to the known risk of collapse, nobody had been allowed to approach the unstable structure since the fateful cable break in mid-November.

arecibo observatory telescope collapse drone footage



Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a US National Science Foundation facility


The vicinity around the dish and the three towers had been cordoned off, so nobody was injured in the collapse, the NSF said.

A inevitable collapse

Arecibo’s downward spiral began in August, when a 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable popped out of its socket on one of the telescope’s three towers and crashed into the dish. It tore a 100-foot gash in the panels.

Arecibo observatory cable fall Dish Damage

A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10, 2020.

Arecibo Observatory


Then the second failure, a snapped main cable, surprised the telescope’s managers in November. An engineering assessment afterward found that the remaining cables were liable to break at any time and send the platform tumbling.

Since the structure was too unstable to save without risk of it collapsing on technicians while they worked on the repairs, the NSF decided to say goodbye to Arecibo, decommissioning the world’s most iconic radio telescope.

arecibo observatory telescope dish hole cable failure

An aerial view

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Drone footage shows the shocking collapse of the Arecibo Observatory

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released shocking footage of the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The video, captured on December 1st, shows the moment when support cables snapped, causing the massive 900-ton structure suspended above Arecibo to fall onto the observatory’s iconic 1,000-foot-wide dish.

The videos of the collapse were captured by a camera located in Arecibo’s Operations Control Center, as well as from a drone located above the platform at the time of collapse. The operator of the drone was able to adjust the drone camera once the platform started to fall and capture the moment of impact. NSF, which oversees Arecibo, had been doing hourly monitoring of the observatory with drones, ever since engineers warned that the structure was on the verge of collapsing in November. “I think we were just lucky and the drone operator was very adept to see what was happening and be able to turn the camera,” Ashley Zauderer, the NSF program manager for Arecibo Observatory, said during a press conference.

The footage highlights the moment when multiple cables snapped, causing the platform to swing outward and hit the side of the dish. The collapse also brought down the tops of the three support towers surrounding Arecibo, where the cables had been connected to keep the platform in the air. “The cables that go from the top of Tower 4 to the platform — they’re very faint in the camera view but they’re there,” said John Abruzzo, a contractor at engineering consulting firm Thornton Tomasetti, hired by the University of Central Florida. “And so it’s those cables that fail near the tower top first, and then once those fail, the platform then loses stability and starts to come down,” Abruzzo said, describing the first video from the control center.

The collapse of Arecibo didn’t come as a surprise. Following the failure of two support cables in both August and November, engineers had concluded that there was no safe way to repair Arecibo and that the platform could fall onto the dish at any moment. NSF hoped to do a controlled demolition of the telescope before that happened, but the collapse occurred before any kind of action could take place.

Now NSF is trying to figure out a path forward, which mostly revolves around figuring out how to clean up Arecibo in a safe manner. Engineers need to do a full environmental assessment of the area and figure out how stable the remaining structures are.

Replacing Arecibo would be a much longer process, involving decisions from lawmakers. “With regards to replacement, NSF has a very well defined process for funding and constructing large scale infrastructure — including telescopes,” Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s division of astronomical sciences, said. “It’s a multi-year process that involves congressional appropriations, and the assessment and needs of the scientific community. So it’s very early

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NSF offers a closer look at how the Arecibo Observatory collapsed

Engineers on-site began working to reduce the load placed on those cables, in part by trying to relax a series of “backstay” cables that helped the tower itself remain upright. According to Zauderer, other options involved using a crew tethered to a helicopter to remove weight from the support tower, but safety concerns eventually grounded that idea. Regardless, it soon became all too clear that the Arecibo complex was living on borrowed time.

“After the November 6th cable failure, the [remaining] cables could have failed at any time,” said Gaume. “We were unable to predict when it would happen, [but] we knew it would happen.” Gaume later noted that, no matter what the Arecibo ground crew tried, they “would have never been able to relieve enough load to get the cables back to the condition before November 6th.”

The team’s worst fears came to pass on December 1st, when — after monitoring individual wires snapping under the strain — the second main cable stretching from Tower 4 to the receiver platform failed. The receiver’s weight was then being borne at one end by just two cables, both of which failed fractions of a second after the first one did, sending the platform careening down into the massive reflector dish. Meanwhile, Tower 4 was suddenly free of weight to carry to support, but was still being pulled by seven backstay cables — that pressure sent the top 65 feet of the tower tumbling backwards. And across the dish, the same thing was happening to Tower 12; its top section was sent rolling down a hill near the Arecibo operations building. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Now, the only thing left to do is pick up the pieces — quite literally. Gaume said the NSF expects to have a “full assessment” of the damage caused by the collapse and its environmental impact by the end of this week. And while the NSF hasn’t ruled out the possibility of restoring or rebuilding the facility, it can’t happen without significant input from other parties.

“NSF has a very well-defined process for building major research equipment and facilities,” he said. “It involves Congress appropriating funding, along with assessment and input by the scientific community, including research and other stakeholders. That process would need to play out.”

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