Obscure Destinations: Irbene Radio Telescope


Spring is burgeoning and now we are all starting to feel a small itch, a fever come upon us, as the weather turns from cold nights to warmer mornings. As the length of the day gets longer, and the sun melts away the deep snow–well, maybe not this year–I want to put on my travel shoes and hit the dusty, and at times, muddy roads.

I find myself yearning for the obscure destinations that are off the beaten path, which begin at the end of the neglected, cracked, and heaved sidewalk, with still many miles to go. Those ruinous locations, that have been left to their own devices, as nature begins to embrace them with her luscious arms, covering them in the thickest vines of bittersweet and ivy, are an interesting diversion.


“So, this is what it would look like if humans lost the race for survival.” There is something introspective about all this.

We found ourselves in Latvia, far from civilization, deep in the woods like some horror movie; three American tourists, traveling down some deserted road, uncertain of what we would find. In our rented Peugeot, bombing down some sketchy and decrepit dirt roads, we headed to the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center.

Like the radar dish–shield generator–the rebels destroy on the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi, it looms over the natural landscape of pine barrens scraggily reaching up toward the cerulean blue skies over Latvia. Its hulking mass stands erect over the undulating landscape of low lying dunes, so out of place, yet so natural in this setting.


If you travel Northeast along P124 from Venstpils, a midsize port city on the Baltic Sea, you will follow the signs for the Irbenese Radioteleskops. This route will take you through scrub pine and small ponds and lakes, the landscape very reminiscent of any sandy spit of land, which had been deposited by glaciers over ten thousand years ago. The route itself is scenic, and in America, would have been developed a hundred times over. Here, in Latvia, the land is left to itself.

The entrance and road to the dish are cracked slabs of cement. Smalls plants and saplings grow from the cracks, and old cement block and brick buildings dot the driveway into this facility. The snaking car path winds through the woods, and past old barracks, until eventually breaking into a clearing, where this building is.


The building’s hulking mass reached for the sky, and seemed to grab clouds and pull them to earth. Much to our disappointment, the radar dish was down for repairs, and we were there only to witness the building and rotator it sits upon.

Even though we were unable to view the massive radar dish, like an eagle from Tolkien’s mythology with large outstretched wings, it was still an awe-inspiring moment. Originally this was called RT-32 by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. This original purpose of this enormous parabolic centimetre-wave range antenna was  to capture radio signals from NATO nations. In 1993, when the USSR was slowly crumbling, Latvia took control of the facility, after it was abandoned, many of the mechanics being destroyed by the occupying force. Fortunately, much of it was left intact, and the Latvian Academy of Sciences was able to swoop in and refurbish this facility. Today, this dish points towards the deep recesses of space, spying on the stars, instead of neighboring nations.



David Jester

About David Jester

David Jester lives in the Midcoast region of Maine. He received a masters degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Maine. David is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and writer, who maintains another blog www.firefighterwithapen.com. He travels the world, but chooses locales that many would never consider for vacation. The world is full of many different and unique places, why not see them all?