Boulevards & Byways

Requiem for the Arecibo Observatory

Puerto Rico

The Arecibo Observatory is closed.

A 1,000-foot diameter dish used to keep 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. It’s just three of the reasons why the loss of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is such a great loss. When it comes to telescopes, there are few as awe-inspiring as this one.

Where was the Arecibo Radio Telescope

Arecibo is in the Northern Coastal Valley region of Puerto Rico. The area is marked by stark contrasts.  It borders the Atlantic Ocean to the north and numerous caves, sinkholes, and wooded hills to the south. Built into a natural limestone sinkhole in 1964, the telescope was made of nearly 40,000 perforated aluminum panels covering an area of about twenty acres.

Arecibo Observatory Facts

The Arecibo Observatory was the brainchild of Cornell University professor William E. Gordon. This was an extraordinary site,  at 167 feet deep, the Arecibo telescope was the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world.  

The Location of the Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Radio Telescope was located approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes from San Juan. As you get closer to the site, navigating through narrow one-lane roads, twisting and turning up and around bends, is just part of the adventure of visiting the area. 

Arecibo Observatory Visitor Center -Closed

A welcoming visitor’s center ushers visitors into a world of interactive exhibits and friendly and informative guides are on-hand to answer all questions. There’s a 20-minute video and then the anticipated opportunity to visit the observation deck to view the breathtaking radio telescope.

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.

Arecibo Observatory Message

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 visitor’s center, visitors 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 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.

Arecibo Observatory Tour – Closed

Those who are interested in an in-depth look at the reflector and what goes on behind the scenes, an Arecibo Observatory VIP tour is available during certain times of the day. A 30 minute guided tour takes visitors to the engineering offices, the control room, and to the edge of the 1,000 feet (305 meters) reflector.

Arecibo Observatory Discoveries

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 the 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.

Arecibo Telescope Loss

The Arecibo Telescope provided an important role of guarding our planet against the threat of asteroids. Seeking answers to the unknown,  the telescope can no longer help protect our planet from threats or decipher a message the day an intelligent race contacts us.

This was is a place that fosters and inspires scientific interest in everyone, not only astronomers and scientists.

Route 625, Bo. Esperanza, Arecibo, PR 00612,-66.7550083,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x8c02db84dca94fc1:0x1ce481f2793da255!8m2!3d18.3464019!4d-66.7528196

(787) 878-2612
Arecibo Observatory

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