Do you ever wonder what lies beyond our solar system? Are you ever curious if there is other (and I use the term loosely) intelligent life out there somewhere?
Since 1963 the giant radiotelescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico has been searching for answers to those very questions and more. As part of the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program, they have also sent information out into space about life here on Earth.
Constructed in a natural depression in the karst-filled landscape of northern Puerto Rico, the giant aluminum dish gathers radio signals from stars, planets, distant galaxies, and even our own atmosphere.
Karst landscapes can be found all over the world. This landscape reminded us of the Li River in China. The cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula are actually sinkholes in a karst landscape. Here in Arecibo, the area is full of caves and underground rivers, typical in a karst landscape. But I digress...
After a steep walk up from the parking lot, we arrived at the Visitor Center. We enjoyed a video on how the telescope was built and several hands-on displays. Then we walked out to the observation platform to see the telescope.
The 300 meter wide dish is constructed out of perforated aluminum panels that focus the radio waves up to the receiving antennas and ultimately to computers that store the information for later analysis.
You can read more about it here:
Since the dish is perforated, jungle plants can grow up through it and although they don't interfere with reception, eventually they could damage the panels, so now and then maintenance workers have to walk out there and "weed" the dish.
Maintenance workers also inspect this equipment on a regular basis. See the catwalk? How would you like to walk out across that?