Dating the universe

“Beyond the east the sunrise;
Beyond the west the sea
And East & West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call & the stars call, and oh!

The call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend

and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call & the road calls, and oh!

The call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night & day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun, and the white road and the sky.”

-- Gerald Gould [Wander-Thirst]

 
 
On la mapa, the route from Utuado to el observatorio a.k.a. the observatory looked dreadfully long because I would have to go all the way north to the sea, then cut south again from Arecibo (pronounced “arr-rey-see-bo”).  However, on autopista 10 norte & halfway to Arecibo I started seeing signs for el radiotelescopio a.k.a. the radiotelescope.  Apparently, there was a more direct way from Utuado, mi mapa just did not identify it.  In fact, finding El Observatorio de Arecibo was the easiest & best marked trail in Puerto Rico!
The sky was speckled with white clouds & it was a picturesque, warm day for a drive on the twisting 625.  Through the peaceful, residential neighborhoods, I intermittently glimpsed apparatuses that would blend in better at N.A.S.A. than in karst country, but never the actual radar dish. 
At 11:00 I pulled into el estacionamiento & primed for the midday ascent – up 100+ steps – to the Visitors Center.  Along the way, more metal was juxtaposed against the natural landscape.  Tuckered & perspiring, I arrived at the summit of la montaƱa only to see another, smaller estacionamiento. Oh well. For being a welcome center, the outdoor flora was certainly not inviting. 
Fatigued & overheated from the climbing this morning, I sought the comfortable, air-conditioned theatre within el observatorio.  Plus, I urgently needed to charge my camera battery & cellular phone.  The space junkie in me enjoyed the short film about the concept & execution of the world’s largest radiotelescopio.  In the 1960s, this marvel was the vision of bold minds who wanted to propel science forward.  In addition, many bird’s eye views of the radar were presented – something no one can view unless he/she #1 rented a helicopter, #2 watched the movie or #3 reviewed the brochure (complimentary with admission).
As usual, the film’s hypotheses of life on other planets blew my mind – even more so when coupled with the evidence discovered at El Observatorio de Arecibo.  I was flabbergasted to learn that optic waves move as fast as low frequency radio waves through our atmosphere & the vacuum of space.  Essentially, el radiotelescopio detected the faintest radio waves that were transmitted inside and outside Earth’s solar system. How would a scientist discover galaxies’ ages & celestial bodies veiled in the cosmos? In common lingo:
When the video ended, the crowd was ushered outside to the viewing platform.  Amidst the myriad of other hilltops blanketed in trees, was this secret. El Observatorio de Arecibo reminded me of Area 51, with its gadgets aimed at the heavens.  The only difference was its existence & physical location was disclosed. Though open to the public, I still envisioned myself as a moronic tourist moseying yards away from the universe’s best-kept mysteries and answers; like a sight-seer just outside the C.I.A. director’s office.  Who knew what was being uncovered as I sat there? Maybe one day –  in the not so distant future – this machinery would prove life inhabited other planets.

Here, I finally saw the mammoth radar dish, set within a sinkhole.  Behind me, a gigantic, 1,000-ton antenna punctured the baby blue sky, along with two other antennae that formed an equilateral triangle. From each, a 600 ton cable ran toward the center of el radiotelescopio to support the high-tech, processor referred to as “the eye.”  The dish received all the publicity & photographs when, in reality, the comparatively diminutive eye humbly did the grunt work.
From my vantage point, the suspension cables that spread in every direction looked as thin as electrical wire.  However, a sample illustrated their thickness and strength.  I wished there was a way to investigate the radar up close & from another angle, but the only way to do that was to buy the $.50 postcard.
As guests cleared out, I mixed & munched on tuna salad in the shade.  If I had more than one life to live, I felt certain my clone would have been an astronomer of some sort.  The interior of the Visitors’ Center was equally enthralling.  There were many three-dimensional exhibits and geological specimens (my favorite – a piece of “space rock”). I felt like a child again, being schooled about the universe & in awe of all this readily available knowledge!
Two hours later, I had seen everything at El Observatorio de Arecibo so I trotted down the metal staircase to the Toyota & resumed driving. From futuristic extraterrestrial life to ancient life; from the heavens to the pits of the underworld… I pressed on to my next adventure.

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