PUERTO-RICO-TELESCOPE

 

SAN JUAN, Puer­to Rico — Puer­to Rico plans to build a hotel and a plan­e­tar­i­um as part of a $50 mil­lion project to attract more vis­i­tors to the world’s largest sin­gle-dish radio tele­scope, offi­cials said Tues­day.

It is the first major announce­ment from the new man­ag­ing con­sor­tium for the Areci­bo Obser­va­to­ry, which fought bud­get cuts last year that could have forced its closure.The plan­e­tar­i­um would be built with­in two years and the hotel with­in five years, Puer­to Rico’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Uni­ver­si­ty said. The school helps run the obser­va­to­ry with Cal­i­for­nia-based SRI Inter­na­tion­al, a non­prof­it research group, and the Uni­ver­si­ties Space Research Asso­ci­a­tion, a Mary­land-based non­prof­it found­ed under the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.  The plan is to con­vert an onsite cafe­te­ria and staff hous­ing into a hotel and restau­rant to help pro­mote the obser­va­to­ry as an edu­ca­tion­al tourism niche in the Caribbean, accord­ing to Puer­to Rico’s tourism office.   Fund­ing will come from sev­er­al gov­ern­ment agen­cies and pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties.

Among the project’s objec­tives is to cre­ate a doc­tor­al pro­gram in astron­o­my and space sci­ence and to attract more than 50,000 stu­dents a year, said Fed­eri­co Matheu, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dent.  The 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) radio tele­scope that was fea­tured in the movies “Con­tact” and “Gold­en­Eye” cur­rent­ly attracts about 100,000 vis­i­tors a year.  In June, the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion award­ed a $42 mil­lion, five-year con­tract to the con­sor­tium to help finance stud­ies at the obser­va­to­ry.

The radio tele­scope iden­ti­fied the first plan­ets beyond the solar sys­tem, and it once sent a three-minute broad­cast to the Her­cules con­stel­la­tion in 1974 in a quest to con­tact alien civ­i­liza­tions.   The obser­va­to­ry, locat­ed on the island’s north coast, opened in 1963 and was oper­at­ed by Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty until last year.