December 03, 2008

The Arecibo Observatory

Amidst the dense jungle around Arecibo, a gigantic structure faces skyward. Puerto Rico is home to the world's largest radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. It peers into space, seeking answers to man's questions about the cosmos. Falling under the auspices of Cornell University, the celestial observer has been seen in films such as GoldenEye and Contact. A thousand feet in diameter, the awe inspiring instrument is used by scientists from all over the world for research purposes. The dish does not move, only the receiver. The antenna can be positioned in any angle as it slide along a cable far above the spherical reflector. SETI@Home relies on observational data provided by the Arecibo Observatory in its search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

In operation from 1963, the telescope can be used during the day or night. Its visitor center is only open during the day though. It has a small science museum, a theatre, and an observation deck from which the public can view the giant device. The film that describes a day in the life of the observatory is an interesting watch for the scientifically inclined. Only professionals are allowed to walk on the on the tiled surface of the reflective dish. Special footwear, resembling snowshoes, are required to traverse its near 40,000 aluminum panels.