Due to damage from hurricanes, the Arecibo Radio Observatory has been deemed too dangerous to operate and too expensive to repair so the decision has been made to demolish it. About a decade ago, I heard it was being threatened by budget cuts and I wrote this essay for a national magazine and it appeared here in the Zone as well. For those of you who may not recall, here it is again, as a final salute, tribute and farewell to the grand old dish.
Thoughts Upon Hearing the Arecibo Radio Observatory was About to be Closed for Budgetary Reasons
I visited Arecibo Observatory in 1973, I was in Puerto Rico on business, and I took a Sunday off to visit the place. It’s a two hour drive from San Juan, and nestled in some pretty spectacular jungle-covered Karst topography: a very beautiful drive into an isolated and haunted countryside.
When I arrived the place was deserted. There was a small building, similar to a motel, where I supposed visiting researchers were quartered; but nobody was home. The permanent staff probably had houses in town (Arecibo proper is about a half-hour drive further north, on the coast). Next door, the control room was visible; through the locked glass doors I could see electronic equipment, powered up, but no one was there. Only my car was in the parking area. At the edge of the lot was a little observation platform where you could walk right up to the edge of the dish itself. It spread before me, filling a vast natural depression. The feeling was very much like standing at the edge of Meteor Crater in Arizona, except I could see suspended above me, on huge white towers, the receivers placed at the focus of the parabola.
The silence, the isolation, the grandeur of it all really affected me. The sheer audacity of the structure, the combination of natural beauty and technological brilliance was almost overpowering. I imagine it would be very similar to be standing alone at Stonehenge on a sunny windy day, accompanied only by ghosts.
Observatories are holy places. They are as impressive and beautiful as a medieval cathedral and by necessity are usually located in lonely and desolate landscapes. Like cathedrals, they are temples to the ineffable, to the incredibly remote, and to our faith in being able to connect with it– places of worship, in a way, sacred places. I know it’s sentimental and impractical of me, but if this site is to be abandoned, let it not be replaced with a farm or village or reservoir or some other practical symbol of the economy. Let it naturally decay into ruins, as a monument to our boldness, and to our stupidity. Centuries from now, men will stand in that place and say ‘we once explored the stars from here’.