22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Humans can only see visible light—the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. That's why so hard to study celestial objects hidden behind cosmic dust. But radio astronomy reveals those parts of the Universe that can't be seen in visible light—and the secrets of dust-shrouded galaxies like our lovely Milky Way.

Objects both on Earth and in space emit other types of detectable electromagnetic radiation, such as radio waves, which penetrate dust. And our beautiful, giant radio telescopes can see those phenomena based on the radio waves they emit. They observe the longest wavelengths of light—ranging from one millimeter to over 10 meters long—and through their sophisticated eyes, we are able to watch stars and planets be born and die, study galaxies and black holes, see the echo of the Big Bang and the Universe’s first galaxies. With arrays of big enough radio telescopes, in the near future astronomers are going to create a much sharper and more detailed map of invisible dark matter—which is estimated to constitute as much as 85 percent of the total matter in the universe.

There are literally hundreds of these radio telescopes scattered all over on Earth, built in all shapes and sizes based on the kind of radio waves they pick up. Here are just 22 of those amazing places from which we scan the universe.


The South Pole Telescope, with a diameter of 30 feet, is located at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, in Antarctica.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Daniel Luong-Van/National Science Foundation


The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is the world's largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: NAIC Arecibo Observatory/National Science Foundation


The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory is located on the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico. The observatory consists of 27 independent antennae, each of which has a dish diameter of 75 feet.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Andrew Clegg/National Science Foundation


The 330-foot diameter Robert C. Byrd telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, is the world's largest, fully steerable radio telescope. It is also the largest moving object ever built on land.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: NRAO/AUI/NSF


Here's the Pie Town, New Mexico antenna of the Very Long Baseline Array after a heavy snowstorm. This antenna is one of ten identical 75-foot diameter antennas observing the universe from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: NRAO/AUI/NSF


The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array is an astronomical interferometer of radio telescopes in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, consisting of 66 36-foot and 21-foot diameter radio telescopes.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: ESO/B. Tafresh


The KAT-7 radio telescope on the Northern Cape of South Africa consists of seven dishes of 36 feet in diameter.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: SKA South Africa


Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, located near Pune in India, is an array of radio telescopes at meter wavelengths.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: National Centre for Radio Astrophysics


The 135-foot telescope of the Nobeyama Radio Observatory in Nobeyama, a village in the Japan Alps, sits at an elevation of 4,050 feet.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Nobeyama Radio Observatory


This is the Siberian Solar Radio Telescope in Khamar-Daban, Irkutsk, Russia. The SSRT is a crossed interferometer, consisting of two arrays of 128x128 parabolic antennas, each 7.5 feet in diameter.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov


The Australia Telescope Compact Array is an array of six identical 72-foot diameter dishes, operated by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization at the Paul Wild Observatory.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: David Smyth/CSIRO


Here's the Effelsberg 300-foot Radio Telescope in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. For 29 years, it was the largest fully steerable radio telescope on Earth, surpassed by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in 2000.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Technische Universität Wien


A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky over the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, in Holmes Chapel, United Kingdom. The Lovell Telescope was constructed in 1955, when it was the largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world at 228.6 feet in diameter. Now it is the third largest, after the Green Bank telescope, and the Effelsberg telescope in Germany.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


The Swedish-ESO Submillimetre Telescope was a radio telescope with a diameter of 45 feet located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. It was built in 1987 and decommissioned in 2003.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Iztok Boncina/ESO


17th October 1972: A farmer driving past five of the eight dishes of the Ryle Telescope at Cambridge, UK.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images


The six 45-foot radio telescopes of the IRAM Interferometer on the Plateau de Bure in the French Alps.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: IRAM/Rebus


The Sardinia Radio Telescope is a 192-foot diameter, fully steerable radio telescope near San Basilio, in the province of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: SRT


The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is a 31.2-foot diameter submillimeter wavelength telescope situated at Mauna Kea Observatory.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: CSO


The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy is comprised of 23 radio telescopes. The observatory is located in the Inyo Mountains to the east of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, at a site called Cedar Flat, California.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: CARMA


This is the Large Millimeter Telescope, which sits on top of the Sierra Negra, in Mexico. It has an active surface with a diameter of 150 feet and 2000 m² of collecting area.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: LMT


The 14-foot diameter Atacama Pathfinder Experiment is located at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert, in northern Chile.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: B. Tafreshi/ESO


Parkes Radio Observatory, Parkes, New South Wales. In the foreground is Austie Helm, from whom CSIRO bought the radio observatory site, mustering a flock of sheep in the paddocks surrounding the telescope. The Parkes Observatory was one of several radio antennas used to receive live, televised images of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

22 Amazing Observatories Where Our Radio Eyes Watch the Universe

Photo: David Moore/CSIRO


Top photo: ALMA by B. Tafreshi/ESO