Exploring Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
Things to do in Puerto Rico
1,000 Foot Diameter Dish in a Sinkhole
The Northern Coastal Valley region of Arecibo, Puerto Rico is marked by stark contrasts. It borders the Atlantic Ocean to the north and is marked by numerous of caves, sinkholes, and wooded hills to the south. One sinkhole in particular is known for nestling an awe inspiring 1,000 foot diameter dish. This dish, a radio telescope, keeps us safe from asteroids, beamed a three minute pictorial message 23,000 light years away to the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, and has assisted in numerous notable discoveries.Visiting Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico should be on your to do list when exploring the island.
An Inspiring & Thought Provoking Tour
The Arecibo Observatory was the brainchild of Cornell University professor William E. Gordon. Built into a natural limestone sinkhole in 1964, the telescope is made of nearly 40,000 perforated aluminum panels covering an area of about twenty acres.
The observatory is open to visitors and I encourage anyone who plans to travel to Puerto Rico to visit this marvel. When it comes to telescopes, there are few as awe-inspiring as this one.The drive to the Arecibo Observatory is not an easy one. Navigating though narrow one lane roads, twisting and turning up a mountain and around bends, it’s impossible to image that an observatory is anywhere in the region. At some point you will spot a sign leading to a paved road to the site. A welcoming visitor’s center will be waiting to usher you into a world of interactive exhibits and friendly and informative guides who are on-hand to answer all your questions. You’ll be given a short presentation with a video and then you’ll have the anticipated opportunity to visit the observation deck to view the breathtaking radio telescope.
Arecibo Observatory Relayed a Message to ET
Astronomers Frank Drake and Carl Sagan put together a binary communication known as the Arecibo message. It was sent from the Arecibo Observatory in 1974.
At the visitors center you will be able to see a graphic showing the Arecibo message. It was directed to the star cluster known as M13. If eventually decoded by an intelligent race, the extraterrestrial recipients will be greeted with a 23 pixel by 73 pixel bitmap image depicting a stick figure of a human being, a human DNA strand, chemical formulas, our solar system, and even an image of the telescope itself.
As one might expect with such a large telescope, some big findings have been made at Arecibo. Most notably, the observatory is known for discovering the first planets outside our solar system and measuring the rotation rate of the planet Mercury. It was also used by Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, of Princeton University, New Jersey, to pinpoint a pair of neutron stars or pulsars. The discovery, the first of a pulsar binary, was of immense importance in understanding gravitational theory and earned the pair the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physics.
The Arecibo telescope has also played a key role in studying celestial events known as fast radio bursts which are split-second blasts of radio waves that appear in the sky and have traveled billions of light years across the cosmos. Today, the telescope is used in the very important role of guarding our planet from the threat of asteroids.
ET Find Home and Find Funding
The great telescope is facing permanent closure.
Despite being one of the most powerful instruments of its kind in the world, the funding by U.S. science agencies has been threatened due to budget cuts and there is talk that it may be destroyed.
Arecibo’s annual running costs are currently met by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), to carry out astronomical research, while NASA uses it survey the sky for asteroids that might collide with Earth.
The NSF is expected to release its final report on the future of Arecibo in May/June of 2017. This will include an environmental impact study that will even highlight the amount and type of explosive that will be required to demolish the observatory, should that be deemed to be its fate.
Visiting Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
This is an extra-ordinary site, At 167 feet deep, the Arecibo telescope has been the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. Just recently the Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in Dawodang, southwest China has been completed, now making it the largest. But who knows, an intelligent race might be out there, somewhere, ready to send a message back. If Arecibo Telescope is gone, who will receive that message? Visiting Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is one of the most unique places I have yet to explore.
Many people will recognize the Arecibo Telescope for its roles in Hollywood movies. The giant telescope was featured prominently in the final scene of the James Bond film Goldeneye and was also the antenna used by Jody Foster in her search for alien signals in the movie Contact.
Open to the public for self-guided tours. Adults: $4, Children: $2. Open Wednesday through Friday from 12pm to 4pm and Saturdays and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
Address: Route 625, Bo. Esperanza, Arecibo, PR 00612
Phone: (787) 878-2612
Website: Arecibo Observatory
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