on April 23, 2005
The radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory, located about 2 hours west of San Juan, is the largest telescope of its kind. To get there from Route 22, we had to follow a series of signs leading us through the windy, hilly back roads. Sometimes the signs were few and far between, but sure enough, we were on the right track. We parked in the lower parking lot and had a bit of a hike up to the visitor center itself. (There were, however, a few handicapped spaces at the top of the hill closer to the visitor center.)
The seemingly futuristic telescope is set amongst a picturesque backdrop of Puerto Rican jungles and hills, and visitors can view it from the outdoor patio above the satellite dish and receiver. It was easy to see why filmmakers have selected Arecibo as the setting for movies such as Contact and Golden Eye. The visitor center has many bilingual, interactive displays geared toward both kids and adults. I particularly enjoyed the computer stations on the second floor, in which I could look up information about a wide range of space-related topics. I left my post, however, after a rather bold 9- or 10-year-old asked me to move so that she could use the coloring-book feature of the computer. I also enjoyed the other exhibits that covered topics such as the solar system, stars and galaxies, famous physicists and astronomers, and the work of the observatory. We also went into the theater to watch the rather intriguing movie highlighting a typical day at Arecibo. Every 20 minutes, they replay the movie, alternating between the English version and the Spanish version. We ended our visit with a trip to the museum shop, where I purchased some astronaut ice cream to enjoy at the outdoor picnic tables.
Overall, it was a great place for families and kids of all ages. People with all types of backgrounds in science should be able to find something they enjoy.
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