Huge Puerto Rico radio telescope, already damaged, collapses

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A huge, already damaged radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century completely collapsed on Tuesday.

The telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell onto the reflector dish more than 400 feet below.

The U.S. National Science Foundation had earlier announced that the Arecibo Observatory would be closed. An auxiliary cable snapped in August, causing a 100-foot gash on the 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) dish and damaged the receiver platform that hung above it. Then a main cable broke in early November.

The collapse stunned many scientists who had relied on what was until recently the largest radio telescope in the world.

“It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was,” said Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years as a senior research associate at the observatory and still lives near it. “I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control…. I don’t have words to express it. It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

Friedman ran up a small hill near his home and confirmed his suspicions: A cloud of dust hung in the air where the structure once stood, demolishing hopes held by some scientists that the telescope could somehow be repaired.

“It’s a huge loss,” said Carmen Pantoja, an astronomer and professor at the University of Puerto Rico who used the telescope for her doctorate. “It was a chapter of my life.”

Scientists worldwide had been petitioning U.S. officials and others to reverse the NSF’s decision to close the observatory. The NSF said at the time that it intended to eventually reopen the visitor center and restore operations at the observatory’s remaining assets, including its two LIDAR facilities used for upper atmospheric and ionospheric research, including analyzing cloud cover and precipitation data.

The telescope was built in the 1960s with money from the Defense Department amid a push to develop anti-ballistic missile defenses. It had endured hurricanes, tropical humidity and a recent string of earthquakes in its 57 years of operation.

The telescope has been used to track asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable. It also served as a training ground for graduate students and drew about 90,000 visitors a year.

“I am one of those students who visited it when young and got inspired,” said Abel Méndez, a physics and astrobiology professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo who has used the telescope for research. “The world without the observatory loses, but Puerto Rico loses even more.”

He last used the telescope on Aug. 6, just days before a socket holding the auxiliary cable that snapped failed in what experts believe could be a manufacturing error. The National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory that is managed by the University of Central Florida, said crews who evaluated the structure after the first incident determined that the remaining cables could handle the additional weight.

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Jerry Falwell Jr. sues Liberty University, says school damaged his reputation

Jerry Falwell Jr. has sued Liberty University, the evangelical school co-founded by his father that he led for more than a decade before resigning in August after a series of personal scandals.



Jerry Falwell, Jr. wearing a suit and tie: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. addresses students in 2015 during a convocation on the campus in Lynchburg, Va.


© Matt McClain/The Washington Post
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. addresses students in 2015 during a convocation on the campus in Lynchburg, Va.

Falwell claims Liberty damaged his reputation, alleging the university accepted without verifying what he called false statements made by a man who had an affair with Falwell’s wife and attempted to extort the couple, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the man, Giancarlo Granda, worked with political operatives opposed to President Trump, including the Lincoln Project, on his “defamatory media campaign” against Falwell.

“Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University,” Falwell said in a news release Thursday from a law firm representing him. “I am saddened that University officials, with whom I have shared so much success and enjoyed such positive relationships, jumped to conclusions about the claims made against my character, failed to properly investigate them, and then damaged my reputation following my forced resignation.”

Falwell’s departure in August generated shock waves because of his stature in parts of the evangelical world. Liberty has long been a power center for conservative Christians, and Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 was seen as a pivotal moment for the candidate, one of the earliest signs of support from a prominent evangelical leader.

Jerry Falwell Jr. says he has resigned as head of Liberty University

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Scott Lamb, a spokesman for the university, said Liberty “leadership teams have important responsibilities this week, serving the Board of Trustees who are in Lynchburg … This lawsuit will be read and reviewed in a timely manner, and I would imagine a public response will be given at that time.”

Falwell and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. But in the news release, attorney Robert L. Raskopf said they had tried unsuccessfully to meet with the executive committee of the school’s board of trustees before filing the suit.

Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns as head of Liberty University, will get $10.5 million in compensation

Falwell, a lawyer and developer, had been admired by many at Liberty for transforming a college mired in debt into a booming 85,000-student university with political clout, a Division I football team and a beautiful campus.

But he generated controversies as well over the years, for comments and actions criticized as racist or anti-Muslim, and some students and alumni worried that the school had weakened its commitment to Christian values.

In August, Falwell was suspended with pay after posting on social media, and then deleting, a photo of himself with his wife’s young assistant that showed their zippers partially down and their stomachs exposed.

Pressure to resign grew intense after a young businessman publicly claimed that he had had an extramarital

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