Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Opening in 1963 the Arecibo Observatory celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The radio telescope is studying our atmosphere, planets, and objects throughout our galaxy and beyond. Operating on a 24 hour a day every day basis it provides data to scientists all over the world. The radio telescope is used for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research. In search of ET? Well…even Hollywood has used the Observatory as a filming location in search of extraterrestrial beings. Scenes from Warner Brother’s movie Contact staring Jodi Foster were filmed here. In the movie, after years of searching, scientists find conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens. Someday we may too, in the meantime the observing continues!
Where is Arecibo Observatory Located?
The Arecibo Observatory is located high in the tropical mountains of northwestern Puerto Rico in the town of Arecibo. We visited the radio telescope the same day as we toured the Rio Camuy Cave Park. The drive between the two attractions is about 30 minutes. Combining both makes a nice day trip from San Juan if you plan ahead.
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We enjoyed the drive in the mountains, past farmlands and pastures in the more rural areas of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. If you plan on driving to the Radio Telescope yourself it’s a good idea to use a GPS. Many of the roads are winding and narrow and there are very few signs to follow. The Arecibo Observatory website has a map and driving directions to the Radio Telescope.
Visiting Arecibo Observatory Radio Telescope
Driving up the hill to the Arecibo Observatory you will get your first glimpse of the massive support towers giving you an idea of how huge the radio telescope is. Once you arrive at the parking area there is an uphill walk to the visitor center. Transportation to the visitor center is provided for handicapped or those needing assistance. Inside the visitor center you will find exhibits explaining the Observatory’s history and how the radio telescope works. There is also a film presented in the auditorium that will detail some of the Observatory’s main discoveries. Exiting the visitor center as you enter the viewing patio, you will not only see the massive radio telescope but you will also hear it. The sound is like a chirping bird. I’m not sure why it’s making the sounds but if you know please let me know, I’m really curious. There’s a refreshment stand outside on the viewing patio where you can purchase hot dogs, ice cream, drinks and other snacks.
The Reflecting Surface
The reflecting surface of the Arecibo Observatory is enormous measuring 1,000 feet in diameter. Made up of 40,000 individual panels, it is suspended in a natural limestone sinkhole covering nearly 20 acres. Incoming rays are reflected back from the surface to two additional reflectors located 450 feet above on the platform, a 500 ton structure supported by cables from three towers.
The Arecibo Observatory Radio Telescope Platform
The 900 ton radio telescope platform is suspended 450 feet above the reflector. Similar to a bridge in design, it hangs in midair on 18 cables, which are strung from 3 massive concrete towers. To get an idea on how large this is, if you look closely you can see a set of double doors and what looks like many AC units on top of the dome. The double doors are on the bottom left side of the dome. You can see them better in the photo below or click on the image to expand. I wonder why they need to cool it with that much power?
Tracking Asteroids at the Arecibo Observatory
The Arecibo radio telescope tracks asteroids that may be traveling close to Earth. Paying particular attention to asteroids that may pose a danger to the planet, it makes every effort to measure their size accurately to estimate the potential impact it could have. In February, 2013 the observatory watched the arrival of asteroid 2012 DA14 which passed within 17,200 miles of Earth. To give you a better idea on how close that is, the moon is 238,900 miles away. Although it was a close flyby, NASA confirmed the asteroid would pass at a safe distance. Whew, that was a close one! I’m glad the Observatory is keeping a close watch on these things. I added their news link at the bottom of this post in case there are any important events to be aware of. It’s amazing to see the scale of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in person and to stand in front of the enormous dish. Learning about its construction and how it’s being used was extremely interesting and educational. If this is your first visit, you will be impressed!
Things to know before you Go
As always it’s best to phone ahead or check their website for current information.
Open Wednesday – Sunday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm Closed Monday – Tuesday – Holidays Admission: Adults $10.00 – Children and Seniors $6.00 – Parking is free Phone 787 – 878 – 2612
Observatory Telescope Website: http://www.naic.edu/general/
Other travel ideas while in Puerto Rico: http://youshouldgotoo.com/caribbean/puerto-rico/
Colorful Produce Stand in Arecibo
After leaving the Observatory, on our way back to San Juan, we spotted this road-side produce stand on the main highway. They had some of the best looking produce we saw in Puerto Rico. If you stop by be sure to try the mini-bananas, they were delicious! Enjoy your trip! Let us know what you think about the Arecibo Space Telescope.