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Science

Arecibo Observatory Loses Funding 185

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the well-isn't-that-sad dept.
An anonymous reader noted that "The Arecibo Observatory funding was slashed. Cut to $8 million from $10.5 million, which will decrease the amount of time that the telescope is operational. "A quarter of its staff was laid off last year," and Arecibo, which is located in Puerto Rico, could possibly be completely closed in four years, according to the "National Science Foundation (NSF), which pays for the operation of the telescope." This comes after "a review panel for the foundation's astronomy division two years ago" suggested cutting Arecibo's financing by 25 percent as a way to pay for new facilities. There has been "[a]n outcry" in response to the "decision, particularly from planetary scientists" who argued that the panel "overlooked Arecibo's role in cataloging potential dangers from asteroids." The Times notes that in Arecibo's favor is the fact that it "may be much cheaper to keep...open" than dismantle, which "could cost hundreds of millions of dollars."" I've been considering a vacation to PR for a few years, and seeing this thing is on my list of awesome things to try to see. Guess I should hurry ;)
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Arecibo Observatory Loses Funding

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @12:53PM (#21437413) Homepage Journal

    I love this practice. I see it going on where I work. Pick on the weak department, which can't easily defend its funding and feather your own nest. Well, what goes around comes around.

  • Arecibo photo (Score:4, Informative)

    by amccaf1 (813772) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @12:57PM (#21437487)
    FYI, Wikipedia has a fantastic hi-res image of the radio telescope [wikipedia.org].
  • Worth it (Score:4, Informative)

    by TrippTDF (513419) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dnalih.> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:03PM (#21437579)
    I've been considering a vacation to PR for a few years, and seeing this thing is on my list of awesome things to try to see. Guess I should hurry ;)

    I was actually there in early 2006, and I have to say it was really well worth it. It's hard to put into words how HUGE it is. The attached Museum is also quite nice- it even includes a small sliver of the moon [googlepages.com], which was a bonus for me.

    unless there is some other technology that comes along and blows this telescope out of the water, it really is in our best interests to keep it running.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:22PM (#21437833)
    One DAY of war funding could fund the telescope for 20 years (at last years 10M/year rate). You're off by a factor of 120 or so.

    Sick, isn't it.

  • by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:25PM (#21437871)
    Sorry for the long post, but this section of the NSF report [nsf.gov] has more information than the Times article.

    Note that there is a report due in December on the cost of decommissioning the telescope and that Cornell is working with the Puerto Rican government to find ways to fill in the funding gap.

    * National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC)/Arecibo - Cornell acted quickly to implement the first of the Senior Review's recommendations to reduce the base operating budget to $8M over the next three years, by modifying the operating mode for astronomy observations, increasing the fraction of time for survey work, and limiting the number of receivers supported and the number of hours for astronomy observations. They also eliminated 30 FTEs, or 25% of their staff. Not all of these savings are realizable immediately, since personnel termination costs must be covered and the observatory requires basic maintenance to ensure safety of operations. By FY 2010, the full $2.5 million savings identified by the Senior Review will be recovered into the AST base budget and available for other uses.

    Cornell has said that it will cease operations of the planetary radar in October 2007 to meet these budget reductions. We have recently learned that, in fact, they are maintaining the capability to operate the planetary radar, although on a less frequent schedule. In conversations with NASA management, it has been made clear that NASA has no intention of resuming support of the planetary radar, which they terminated in FY 2006.

    With NSF's encouragement and support, Cornell and Arecibo staff are actively pursuing partnerships with the Puerto Rican government, local businesses, and academic institutions to provide additional operations support by 2011. We recently visited Puerto Rico, held a town hall for the Arecibo community, and met with commonwealth officials, business leaders, representatives from the universities and concerned citizens. We clarified the Senior Review recommendations and NSF's role in supporting the observatory and helped foster discussions among the many parties interested in maintaining the observatory as a viable operating facility for scientific research, education, and public outreach. The meetings were very positive with many expressions of a desire to work together to identify creative solutions to obtaining additional support. Many challenges face Cornell in preparing a plan for sustained long-term support from non-AST sources. I am optimistic that such a plan can be put together. NSF has informed Cornell that a concrete plan for operations in 2011 and beyond must be in place by spring of 2009. It is at that point that NSF must set the FY 2011 budget and so make a decision about the long-term future of Arecibo.

    Nonetheless, in order to plan responsibly, and weigh the various options, we have to understand the cost of closure to be weighed against other options. As recommended by the Senior Review, NSF is also engaging an engineering firm to carry out a study of the cost of decommissioning the observatory facility. The study will explore a variety of possible endpoints, ranging from complete deconstruction and restoration of the site to its natural state to securely 'mothballing' the facility. The results of this study will be available in December 2007 and will serve as critical input to our planning for the long-term future of the observatory. This is part of responsible lifecycle costing, and should not be regarded as indicating that any final decisions have been made.

  • Re:Uh... (Score:3, Informative)

    by wurp (51446) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:27PM (#21437901) Homepage
    What are you talking about? First, it foments hatred mostly among non-USians, primarily among Iraqis. Second, I didn't say I hated anyone - it sure seems to me that it's the guys advocating killing that are the haters.

    What kind of screwy world do we live in where advocacy of turning our money from bullets & choppers toward scientific research qualifies one as hating?
  • Re:WTF (Score:3, Informative)

    by stox (131684) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:37PM (#21438057) Homepage
    "Closing down Arecibo would be like closing down the Fermi Lab particle accelerator to Particle Physics."

    Unless they decide to build the ILA at Fermilab, it will probably be shut down in the not too distant future. I think they now have some Neutrino experiments scheduled out to 2011, but past that nothing.
  • by sgrandi (725424) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:43PM (#21438125)
    The NSF Astronomy Division convened a "Senior Review" http://www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/ast_senior_review.jsp [nsf.gov] to try and see where money could be saved to pay for the enormous operating costs of ALMA http://www.alma.nrao.edu/ [nrao.edu] which is the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. ALMA will be an array of some 64 12-meter antennas operated at an elevation of 5000 m (16,000+ ft). ALMA is a collaboration between the Europeans, Japan, Chile and the US.

    Arecibo was a loser in the Senior Review; something has to give to pay for ALMA operations!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @04:10PM (#21440105)
    As usual, astronomy makes all the headlines, but 50% of the observing time is devoted to ionospheric research. I have published scientific papers analyzing ionospheric data from Arecibo. I have also visited Arecibo at NSF's expense, and have been on top of the gondola (the transmitter/receiver boom suspended over the radar dish). What a view!

    Cutting funding for Arecibo would be quite a blow to ionospheric & magnetospheric physics research, as well as to astronomy.

    Richard Link, Ph.D.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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