Arecibo Radio Dish Must Get Like a Billion Channels
When traveling through the parts of Puerto Rico that are not the capital city of San Juan there are many "must see" attractions, but there are only two that really take whatever cake it is that people love so much. One is the caves at Camuy, but the one that's just about as popular is the radio observatory at Arecibo. I've seen satellite dishes before, but this one must get, like, a billion channels.
Some people have those small dishes that pick up modern satellite TV, and some have much bigger dishes that pick up even more channels than that. I've even seen houses with several dishes ranging in size from modest to outrageous. What I've never seen before is anything even close to this.
Turns out it's because it's the only one that comes anywhere close to it and it almost feels like they're showing off or something.
Within months of entering service, they discovered that Mercury rotates much faster than previously thought. They've discovered the presence of super-fast pulsars, and they're the number one site for the detection of near-earth meteors and other such things that could play out like in the movie Armageddon.
Left - Near the bottom of the hill is a learning-type play area, complete with an exhibit that I can't even pretend to understand... That's a stretch even for me, because I can pretend to understand an awful lot of things.
Still, the site is more famous for having a cameo in the 1996 blockbuster "Contact" starring Jody Foster and Matthew McConaughey, and also the James Bond film Goldeneye (to a lesser extent). Despite its fame, it is in danger of closing down in the next couple years due to lack of funding.
Funding is critical, since the most important thing when showing off how many channels you get, is actually receiving those channels. Even though it's a small part of what they do there, the radio observatory gathers data for SETI, which is a noble, fascinating program that looks for radio and television channels from space aliens.
How cool would that be? Can you imagine the wealth of knowledge we could gain simply by watching the late night infomercials from a superior race of intelligent aliens? If you think what you see on QVC is an item you can't live without, imagine that it was on a version of QVC run by a race with a million more years of technology. That wouldn't just slice, dice and julienne-cut your fries, it would probably also cure what ails you, improve your self esteem and make you more attractive to the opposite sex all at once.
What price could you put on that?
And this is to say nothing of what we could learn about social behaviors from sitcoms or what we could learn about criminal justice from an interstellar version of "Cops" or "True Crime Stories." And if you want to get crazy, imagine what their "X-Files" must be like. I wonder if they feature crazy creatures made out of meat who bear a striking resemblance to humans.
Above - They have a telescope there, as if you'd need one to see the massive, 80-acre dish that's right in front you. It's like they're bragging about it, really.
If you're in San Juan, you can find a number of tour groups that take daily tours out to both the caves of Camuy as well as the radio dish at Arecibo. The admission charge is minimal and there is a world-class, two-story visitor center with more information than you'll take the time to enjoy, which means you're getting more value than your money knows it is worth. Silly money, what does it know?
The observatory is open daily during peak seasons, and Wednesday through Sunday the rest of the year. For hours, current rates and all the information you could hope for, check them out online at www.naic.edu. And if you're a member of the congressional finance committee -- and I'll admit that isn't our biggest demographic -- please bear in mind that if they don't get their funding, more than 90% of the world's capacity to detect potential collisions will be gone without an alternative on the horizon. The human race not going extinct seems like a pretty noble cause to me, but time and funding (or the lack thereof ) will be the ultimate judge on that front.
Above - Since we're journalists, we got a chance to go around and check out some behind-the-scenes parts of the radio telescope installation, such as this... did I say radio telescope? I meant satellite dish.