Arecibo observatory Puerto Rico

One of the three towers at Arecibo ObervatoryArecibo observatory is home to the largest radio telescope on the planet – a radio dish with a span of almost 1000 feet. The telescope is deliberately remote to keep radio interference to a minimum and although although some way off the beaten track, Arecibo Observatory is fairly well signposted.

That is, until you find yourselves on a winding mountain road wondering where you went wrong. In fact, continue along this road and you’ll eventually catch your first glimpse of the three huge towers that suspend the sensitive measuring apparatus.

The dish is operated by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) and its vast size – almost 1000 feet – makes it extremely sensitive to radio signals originating from galaxies far, far away. In fact it is so sensitive that visitors are required to switch off cellular phones.

 

The dome containing sensitive measuring equipmentA view into the dish

The radio telescope’s sensitivity means that measurements that take hours in other observatories can be completed within minutes. Arecibo Observatory is available to scientists all over the globe and in use 24 hours a day.

Before accessing the observation area you visit an exhibition and see a short film about the observatory. The real highlight though is the dish itself and you can see the dish and the 800-tone platform that supports the measuring devices.

Special shoes are required to walk on the dishThe actual dish is covered in 38,778 perforated aluminum panels and anyone walking on it – presumably for maintenance – must wear special shoes to avoid damage (see left).

Entry to Arecibo Observatory is $4 and it can be reached from San Juan in about 75 minutes by road. Fans of James Bond will be interested to learn that the Arecibo Observatory makes an appearance in GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007, when the location appeared as the villain’s Cuban lair.

Opening hours are 12:00-16:00 Wednesday-Friday and 09:00-16:00 at weekends.