Puerto Ricans reverently refer to it as ‘El Radar’; to everyone else it is simply the largest radio telescope in the world. Resembling a spaceship grounded in the middle of karst country, the Arecibo Observatory looks like something out of a James Bond movie – probably because it is (007 aficionados will recognize the saucer-shaped dish and craning antennae from the 1995 film GoldenEye).
The 20-acre dish, operated in conjunction with SRI International, is set in a sinkhole among clusters of haystack-shaped mogotes (limestone monoliths), like Earth’s ear into outer space. Supported by 50-story cables weighing more than 600 tons, the telescope is involved in the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program and used by on-site scientists to prove the existence of pulsars and quasars, the so-called ‘music of the stars.’ Past work has included the observation of the planet Mercury, the first asteroid image and the discovery of the first extra-solar planets.
Top scientists from around the world perform ongoing research at Arecibo, but an informative visitors center with interpretative displays and an explanatory film provide the public with a fascinating glimpse of how the facility works. There’s also a well-positioned viewing platform offering you the archetypal 007 vista.
To get to the observatory, follow Hwys 635 and 625 off Hwy 129. It’s only 9 miles south of the town of Arecibo as the crow flies.