The Arecibo Observatory: Listening to the Universe

Experience the largest radar/radio telescope on the planet at the Arecibo Observatory. Operated by Cornell University the telescope was built in 1963 and is deployed to probe the ionosphere, and examine planets and monitors natural radio emissions from distant galaxies, pulsars and quasars.

Here, scientists from all over the world use a giant dish to listen to the universe. The dimensions of the dish are staggering – 305 meters in diameter, covering about 20 acres of area, and made of 38,778 aluminium panels. The receiver and transmission equipment are suspended 450 ft. above the dish and weigh approx. 900 tons. The radio waves picked up by the panels and antenna collect data about the planets, astronomy and atmospheric sciences. Data collected assists users with logistical analysis and furthers the study of a world beyond ours, as well as winds and temperatures in the atmosphere. You can view the huge telescope from an observation platform, where its austere metallic symmetry makes a dramatic contrast with the surrounding dense, tropical landscape.

The Observatory operates 24/7, 365 days a year, and provides much needed information to scientists in all corners of the world. Scientists flock here to take advantage of its astonishing capabilities and collect data to support their theories. It employs approximately 140 people: scientists, computer engineers, engineers, technicians and telescope operators – all of whom play a vital role in the maintenance of the various instruments and in keeping the observatory up-and-running.

The Arecibo Observatory is not only a star attraction due to its amazing capabilities, but also because it features in movies such as the James Bond’s – “Golden Eye” with Pierce Brosanand “Contact” starring Jodie Foster.  Fox Mulderwas sent here the X-Files episode “Little Green Men”. Interestingly, San Juan, Puerto Rico also sits on one of the three corners of the Bermuda Triangleand – so if aliens were to ever communicate with the Earth, supposedly scientists on the island would be the first to pick-up the signal.

Also in the realms of science fiction SEARCH FOR EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE (SETI): SETI is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for electromagnetic transmissions from civilisations on distant planets. The Arecibo Observatory devotes a small fraction of its observation time to SETI searches.