Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Arecibo Observatory

"The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books - a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects." - Albert Einstein

I confess. We did not shop and eat all of the time when we were in San Juan. We did go to visit the world's largest radio telescope at Arecibo. I had to reward my resident geek somehow for all of the shopping he endured.

It was awesome to see this immense dish, covering 20 acres, which was built in a sink hole in the rural Puerto Rican countryside. When we were there, we were told there was some excitement about a meteor they had spotted. I did not learn more about it than this, because the employee I spoke with was at lunch and very intent on flirting with the lovely girl at the hot dog concession. I can appreciate that he had his priorities straight.

There is a very nice visitor's center at Arecibo with a lot of interactive exhibits. But I found the noise of the competing film clips and sounds produced at the various stations maddening. I am just not used to Big World noise anymore. Why are these learning things so LOUD? Are we unable to learn quietly these days? (I do sound old and crotchety don't I? No,don't answer that.) I did have to leave the museum part fairly quickly, so I did not get to fully explore all the areas Arecibo searches,like weather conditions, and atmospheric changes. But I did have to hunt down the well hidden silent display about the SETI project.

If you saw Jodie Foster's movie Contact, based on a book by Carl Sagan, you know a little about SETI and Arecibo. For me, lucky enough to be married to Mr. Wizard, I have learned a little more. But here is the upshot as found on the SETI website:

"The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe."

"We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history — to know our beginnings and our place among the stars."

So, we sat and looked at this enormous device and contemplated. At least some of the time, Arecibo is patiently listening for the sounds of others who might live in our universe.

livingdominca: I miss Carl Sagan, don't you?

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