Astrobiology in Puerto Rico

Astrobiology in Puerto Rico

Faculty Led Program to Puerto Rico

Astro 140 is an  interdisciplinary course in science covering topics in astronomy, geology, biology and chemistry that relate to the existence of life on bodies in the universe other than the Earth.  At this time no evidence of life has been discovered outside planet Earth but there is increasing scientific evidence for the possibility of life originating elsewhere.

Astro 140, Life in the Universe, is a 3 credit GN course.  There will be a special section of Astro 140 with an embedded international travel component to Puerto Rico during spring break in addition to residential class meetings both before and after travel.  For students who have already completed Astro 140, Astro 299 may be taken for 2 credits. Astro 299 requires the travel and 15 hours of residential class meetings before and after travel. Prerequisites for Astro 140 are Astro 1, Astro 5 or Astro 10 and for Astro 299 there is a prerequisite of Astro 140.

The travel component will include

  • visit to the Arecibo radio telescope which can detect molecules in space - the observation of simple organic compounds in space shows the availability of raw materials for life in space.
  • the observation and study of extremophile life growing on the island guided by a professor at the University of Puerto Rico who studies these microbes
  • workshop led by an expert  at the University of Puerto Rico in exoplanet detection - planets discovered orbiting stars other than the Sun
  • exploration of the diversity of life forms in caves and in rainforests
Arecibo Observatory radio telescope

Arecibo Observatory

The Arecibo Observatory is a radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The observatory's 1000 foot radio telescope is the world's second largest single-aperture telescope. It is used in three major areas of research: radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy.


Students will review the scientific background necessary to understand
scientific evidence supporting the search for extraterrestrial life. After their travel, students should be able to -

  • Explain what kind of data the 300 ft  Arecibo telescope collects and what can be concluded from the data.
  • Explain what extremophiles are and observe the special conditions for these microbes found in a particular location in Puerto Rico.
  • Explain what exoplanets are and how they are detected.
  • Identify characteristics of species of plants and animals in the rainforest environment how this contributes to biodiversity.
  • Explain the geology which contributes to sink holes and caves formation in Puerto Rico.


Day 1 – SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 2017        
Flight to Puerto Rico

Arrival in San Juan, hotel check in & On-Site Orientation, San Juan/Isla Verde

Day 2 – SUNDAY       

Morning tour of historical area San Juan, El Moro & lunch in Old San Juan
Travel to Mayaguez by bus, dinner in Mayaguez, Mayaguez/Salterns

Day 3 – MONDAY

Meet with guest lecturer and visit Cabo Rojo Salterns
Lunch in Mayaguez
Travel to Arecibo by bus
Visit to Arecibo Observatory, Mayaguez/Arecibo


Observatory Day with assignments
VIP tour of observatory
Collect telescope data
Dinner in Arecibo
Analyze telescope data, Arecibo

Day 5 – WEDNESDAY        
Astronomy Day
Visit UPR Arecibo campus
Dinner in Arecibo
STAR Party with UPRA students, Arecibo

Visit to Clara Cuevas with guest lecturer from UPRA by bus
Lunch near caves
Afternoon at UPRA to analyze salterns samples
Return to Isla Verde by bus
Dinner in AreciboIsla Verde, Arecibo/Isla Verde


Travel to Rainforest
Hike through El Yunque Rainforest
Collect picture journal of rainforest species.
Dinner at Luquillo Kiosco
Return to Isla Verde, Isla Verde

DAY 8 – SATURDAY       

Breakfast at hotel & departure for airport for return to Philadelphia, Isla