Landscape makes such a difference when you’re collecting giant dishes.

As I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, when I visited the Very Large Array in New Mexico, the terrain was flat enough that I could spot the dishes (actually radio telescopes) at a very long distance. But when I pursued my space geekdom/giant radio telescope fascination to Arecibo Observatory, in Puerto Rico, the mountainous jungle landscape hid all but the top of a 450-foot tower that suspends a 900- ton platform over the 1,000 foot diameter reflector dish.

Arecibo Observatory Tower

When I finished climbing 500 steps to the visitor’s center, and stepped out onto the viewing platform—well, let’s just say “disappointed” wasn’t a word in my vocabulary at that moment.

Arecibo Observatory Reflector Dish, Puerto Rico

Hello, world’s largest reflector dish! Constructed out of 38,788 aluminum panels, this sucker is so big, it looks fake. (Or am I the only one who suspects that something this huge is probably made out of cardboard? This, however, was not made out of cardboard, but rather aluminum panels—38, 778 of them, to be exact.) If you’re not impressed by the size, perhaps you’ll remember Pierce Brosnan scampering all around it during his turn as James Bond in the movie GoldenEye.

Arecibo was apparently in danger of being shut down this past summer, but it’s gotten some funding for asteroid tracking and atmospheric observation that will keep it open until 2016. Which means there’s enough time to add it to your own, personal collection of gigantic dishes—which I hope I’ve encouraged you to start immediately.

All photos by Alison Stein Wellner.

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Alison J. Stein

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