The Ageing Giant Of Telescopes, Shrouded In Tropical Mist 

The Ageing Giant Of Telescopes, Shrouded In Tropical Mist 

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is one of the most famous telescopes in the world — it’s been in a James Bond film (GoldenEye) as well as Contact. Now that the telescope is ageing, though, it’s only looking more dramatic.

Enrico Sacchetti, whose portraits of telescopes, space shuttles and remote locations we’re featured on Gizmodo over the years, sent along these new shots of Arecibo Observatory’s William E. Gordon Telescope from his latest trip. The telescope is grounded by a massive 300m wide reflecting dish nestled into the tropical forest.

Above the extremely wide pan, a thicket of wires and steel mechanisms hang in midair. It looks extraordinarily precarious — but the observatory describes the structure akin to a suspension bridge. It’s all to support the reflectors, motors, and antennas that are needed to receive radio waves that arrive from space and the bounce back from the reflector dish. The tessellated mushroom is called a Gregorian focus dome — which focuses the waves. The Observatory calls it a “giant eye.”

Amazingly, even though it was built more than 50 years ago in 1963, the telescope is still unique and super-powerful — it’s the world’s largest and most sensitive of its kind. That doesn’t mean it’s impervious to age — as Sacchetti’s photos show, the humidity has covered it in rust, and just last year, an earthquake severely damaged the structure. But after emergency surgery, it’s still alive and kicking.

In Sacchetti’s photos, the telescope really looks like an object that embodies the space race, along with Sputnik and other engineering icons. In these photos, it’s almost hard to believe it was designed by humans.

Pictures: Enrico Sacchetti. Courtesy of the NAIC, Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF