Dreams Come True, My Visit To Arecibo Observatory

Dreams Come True, My Visit To Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory…….

This is a place I’ve dreamed of visiting since……well I can’t quite remember how long it’s been.  And I’m not sure how I found out about it.  Roughly I’m thinking this goes back to the 90’s.  It might have been with the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster.  I’m not sure.  All I know is that I found out about this place and I’ve just craved to visit.

So I did!

I wasn’t disappointed.  Well, a little bit because there really wasn’t anyone there to walk you thru and guide you or a presence of someone to excite the wonders of the universe.

There was a handful of young employees with a cursor amount of information.  Banos are outside, because the indoor ones are out of order.  Thank you young man.

Arecibo Observatory is located a short distance south of the Puerto Rican city of Arecibo in the mountains at an approximate altitude of 1200 feet above sea level.  Definitely not the highest spot in Puerto Rico but still a bit of a challenging drive for me.

  The observatory is operated by SRI International, USRA and UMET, under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).  It was the largest radio telescope (1000 ft./305 meter) from it’s beginning in November 1963 until July of 2016 when the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope was completed in China.

Arecibo Observatory is the dream of William E. Gordon of Cornell University in the United States.  No small dream, and full of nah sayers.  Mr. Gordon was told, it couldn’t be done and that it wouldn’t work.

The work started in 1960 and 3 short years later in 1963 the work was completed and successful.

Dreams Come True, My Visit To Arecibo Observatory

Once arriving at the observatory there’s a challenging walk of about 500 steps that’s all uphill that is breathtaking but not for the sights, merely for the demand of the walk!

The visitor’s facility is located at a lookout points overlooking the near complete view of the dish.  There’s this 900 ton apparatus (this is not a technical article, hehehehe) that dangles (see what I mean) over the dish that can be moved to various positions and angles over the dish.  Thereby allowing views of different parts of the sky.  The dish itself is stationary.   This telescope doesn’t require night time viewing…..because it’s radio.

If you look closely at the picture above you’ll notice there’s a ‘catwalk’ to the right.  Just the thought makes me dizzy and nauseous.  But that’s me and my height thing I have going on.  Seems everywhere I’ve traveled to thus far is me confronting that fear of heights.  You should’ve seen the sights on the drive here from Ponce!!!  Remarkable, what I could see…..I was driving a winding road that lead up mountains on the coastline.  I specifically took that path thinking it was flatland rather than the drive through the mountain range with 4,000+ feet heights.

Dreams Come True, My Visit To Arecibo Observatory

The dish surface is made of 38,778 perforated aluminum panels, each about 3 by 6 feet (1 by 2 m), supported by a mesh of steel cables.  It can be walked on but only with special shoes…..sort of like snow shoes only smaller.

Here’s a little of Arecibo’s accomplishments:  Gordon Pettengill’s team used it to determine that the rotation period of Mercury was not 88 days, as formerly thought, but only 59 days.  In 1968, the discovery of the periodicity of the Crab Pulsar (33 milliseconds) by Lovelace and others provided the first solid evidence that neutron stars exist. In 1982, the first millisecond pulsar, PSR B1937+21, was discovered by Donald C. Backer, Shrinivas Kulkarni, Carl Heiles, Michael Davis, and Miller Goss.  This object spins 642 times per second and, until the discovery of PSR J1748-2446ad in 2005, was identified as the fastest-spinning pulsar.

There’s much more than the space here allows…….  This is about me and my visit.

But here’s a few other interesting tidbits;  In 1974 the search went out for ET, the Arecibo Message, an attempt to communicate with potential extraterrestrial life, was transmitted from the radio telescope toward the globular cluster Messier 13, about 25,000 light-years away.  No word back yet……but then it is a long way! Hehehehe.  And on November 7, 2009, as part of the 35th anniversary of the Drake/Sagan transmission to M13, the RuBisCO gene sequence was transmitted to three nearby stars: GJ 83.1, Teagarden’s star SO 025300.5+165258 and Kappa Ceti (G5B).  This one’s really a bit fancy, it has something to do the atmospheric carbon dioxide converted by plants and other living organisms.

Dreams Come True, My Visit To Arecibo Observatory

I did pick up a souvenir, a beer cozy with the Arecibo name and logo on it.  I’ve put it to use.

Adjacent to the dish is a building that is referred to as the brain of the facility.  And, here’s where a big disappointment comes in…..it’s off limits.  But we do get a look at it on a 15 minute video presentation.  That will just have to do.

It would have been really cool to have an apprentice that worked in ‘the brain’ to be around to give a briefing and answer a few layman questions.  Very interesting from the small amount of time on the video presentation.

Amazingly I had the privilege to send a message via the radar messaging to outer space!  I’m really excited about that.  The message was simple; “Peace and love,  John Gaudet.  Cool.

Peace, love, and beaches,


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