A week at Arecibo Observatory


A little over a week ago I arrived at the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world.  My boss picked me up at the airport and drove me up into the hills of Puerto Rico’s karst country where I caught my first glimpse of the support towers of Arecibo Observatory, peeking out over the wooded hills.

8 o'clock tower

I’ve been staying in Visiting Scientist Headquarters, in the Puerto Rican version of Baba Yaga’s house.  A nightly chorus of coqui frogs sings until dawn, when bright rays of sun cut through the shutters, onto a mirror, and into my eyes.  I’m awake.

Fairy castle in the trees

A lizard took up residence in VSQ BIII with me.  Even though he runs all over my legs when I’m trying to sleep off a 3:30-7 am observing run, he’s eating mosquitos so he’s welcome.

Evening visitor

A family of four cats – mama cat and her three kittens – lives down by the cafeteria.  They even have their own blog, “Observatory Cats“.

Kittens looking that way

My commute is 125 steps down a winding staircase through the jungle, ending at a stand of tall trees covered in vines including a coconut palm.  How to get the coconuts down from the 100′ tall tree?


Jungle vines

Arecibo Observatory is interdisciplinary, not because it’s trendy to bring together atmospheric studies, astronomy, planetary radar, and satellite work, but because it’s the nature of this place and how things happen here.  Even though the place was built in the 1950’s, relevant science still originates from the 1000-foot-wide dish.  Different research fields support one another, and everyone here benefits.

In some ways it’s still the wild frontier out here, in much the same way it was in the 1950’s when the radio telescope was built: anything’s (still) possible.  The roads are just slightly better now than then.  If you want to do something at the observatory, make it happen.

A great thing about having a 305-meter diameter dish in your backyard?  C = Dπ = 305 m * π = 1,000 m = 1 km, so there’s a kilometer-long running track just a few minutes’ jog down the hill.

9 thoughts on “A week at Arecibo Observatory

  1. This is so cool, Sondy! I love reading your updates 🙂

    Tell us about who else is there — what are they researching? Any new breakthroughs come through recently? What is your role? (Pleeeez don’t say data monkey ;))

    Missing you in the bay!

  2. Thanks for your postings — brings back many memories. Glad to see the VSQ is still around. Was there when they were built, and even did some work on them (unofficially — my official role was writing telescope control and data acquisition programs).

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