The Arecibo Observatory has suffered vast damage, after a cable fell and tore a gap in the dish that powers its telescope.
The incident ripped a 100-foot-gash in the dish as well as causing damage to the "Gregorian Dome" that houses the receiver at the top of the telescope, and the platform that is used to access it.
Operations at the facility in Puerto Rico have now been postponed and the observatory is closed as experts look to understand how the problem could happen and whether it might be possible to fix it.
It is still not clear how the cable broke, according to the University of Central Florida, which manages the National Science Foundation facility.
The observatory was already struggling to fix the damage from Hurricane Maria and the devestation that swept across the whole island. That was just the latest disaster to hit the telescope, which has survived through hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes in its 50 years of existence.
The Arecibo Observatory – for years the biggest single-aperture telescope in the world, until China's FAST came online – is used by scientists to conduct a variety of research on planets and other objects elsewhere in the universe. It has been key to the discovery of gravitational waves, asteroids and more.
It has also been seen in a number of fictional works, where it has been portrayed as discovering aliens and being used to endanger humanity. It is famous for its inclusion in one of the pivotal scenes in Goldeneye, for instance.
“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” says Francisco Cordova, the director of the observatory, in a statement.
“Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world.”