Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Government The Almighty Buck United States News

Arecibo Observatory Facing Massive Budget Cuts 171

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the keeping-the-lights-lit dept.
SirLurksAlot writes "Many supporters of the SETI@home project have recently received a message informing them of impending budget cuts for the Arecibo Observatory and asking them to show their support for the project by writing to Congress. The letter also informs supporters that there are currently two bills (Senate bill 2862 sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton, and a similar House bill, H.R. 3737), which are intended to secure funding for the project. According to The Planetary Society, the current plan for the Arecibo Observatory involves cutting funding by more than 60% from $10.4 million to just $4 million by 2011."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Arecibo Observatory Facing Massive Budget Cuts

Comments Filter:
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @12:33PM (#24066967)
    This is insane. We're throwing untold billions of dollars away on useless, inconsequential or outright stupid things every year, and we can't afford a few million for something like Aricebo? Are we nuts?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529)

      I support funding Aricebo for use to search for NEO's, but I don't want my tax money going to SETI. I'm sorry, but as cool as it would be to either confirm the 'WOW' signal or find a signal from an ET, it shouldn't be a priority for using tax dollars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MrKaos (858439)
        But how will we listen out for illegal aliens?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JebusIsLord (566856)

        Are you saying that it isn't worthwhile, or that it should be done by the private sector? Because I just don't see how it could exist without government funding given there is no realistic potential for a monetary return on investment.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by novakyu (636495)

          Because I just don't see how it could exist without government funding given there is no realistic potential for a monetary return on investment.

          Philanthropy. There are whole organizations pouring money into Africa. What's their expected return?

          • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @02:55PM (#24068267) Journal
            you can't make nearly as much money/trade with people in complete poverty, you can with people who get out of that kind of poverty so it isn't even a matter of ethics/morals/philanthopy, it's one of long term economics.
          • For one thing, they get to not listen to annoying "Just a dollar a day" commercials on TV. They don't have to read depressing news stories about what's happening in other countries, or if they do (and this is probably the key) they get to feel good about themselves for doing something about it.

        • given there is no realistic potential for a monetary return on investment.

          Tax write-offs for charitable donations. Every year, big corporations and wealthy individuals give billions of dollars to charity in order to lower their taxes. As long as this is run by a non-profit organization, donations are eligible for this. All that's needed now, is a little publicity in the right places and the donations will start rolling in.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Enderandrew (866215)

        I agree. I read a while back that SETI went through their entire spectrum twice and hasn't found anything yet.

        I've also read how over the years, despite the fact that we have begun broadcasting more signals over the years, the Earth has gotten "quieter" in that our signals are more focused and don't travel as far. Even if there was intelligent alien life out there, and even if they broadcast radio signals, it seems unlikely they'd broadcast them far enough for us to pick them up.

        I don't want tax dollars g

      • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

        by budgenator (254554) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:20PM (#24067379) Journal

        The seti receiver is separately and primarily privately funded and operates in a tag-a-long mode so the seti operations don't interfere with other more traditional operations at Arecebo. When there is an observation going on the seti receiver just takes in what-ever the main telescope is looking at slightly off axis; very rarely is the telescope pointed at an object for a specifically seti observation. Additionaly the kinds of signals that Seti finds interesting are generally signals that when shown to be naturaly caused give astronomers decades of research material!

        I remember when Pulsars were designated LGMs for litlle Green Men.

      • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheOnlyJuztyn (813918) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @02:00PM (#24067773)
        To put this in perspective, this $6m cut will save the average US taxpayer about $0.024/year. Meanwhile, the Iraq War has cost the average taxpayer about $12,000 each over the last five years. With that money, you could fund Arecibo at its current level for more then 300,000 years.
        • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Saturday July 05, 2008 @03:57PM (#24068863) Homepage Journal

          Meanwhile, the Iraq War has cost the average taxpayer about $12,000 each over the last five years.

          If we assume a baseline 100M taxpayers, and an Iraq war cost of 100B a year, then, we're really talking only about $1000 a year on average. Notice, though, that 90% of the taxes in the USA are paid by people making over $250,000 a year, so really, we average stiffs are probably not even paying for the war at all.

          Now, let's say that the Iraqis come through and increase their oil production to first 3m bbls/day, and then to 5m / bbls a day, and the benefits of this production increase result in additional 50 billion a year in profits to American companies, PLUS, a reduction in gasoline costs. We can calculate the ultimate profitability of the war based upon a reduction in the price of gasoline per person, knowing that in the USA the per capita consumption of gasoline is about 10 barrels per person per year. Source [statemaster.com], and thus, about 30 barrels per taxpayer per year. So we say at 30 x 45 gets us about 1200 gallons of gas per year per taxpayer. We can thus calculate that if the war in Iraq is victorious, AND, nets a global price reduction of about a $1 / gallon, then, each taxpayer would come out ahead about $200 per year, even if the cost of continuing the war is born indefinitely. If, on the other hand, the USA wins the war and a stable semi-US-friendly government emerges and thus we can withdraw the troops, and Iraq still pumps enough to lower the price of gasoline by a $1 a gallon, then the war would basically pay for itself in about 5 years, and then after that, it would be pure profit for the USA. Hey, imperialism can be profitable, which is why countries do it!

          • by Jurily (900488)

            90% of the taxes in the USA are paid by people making over $250,000

            [citation needed]

          • Now, let's say that the Iraqis come through and increase their oil production to first 3m bbls/day, and then to 5m / bbls a day, and the benefits of this production increase result in additional 50 billion a year in profits to American companies ...

            Err ... American oil under all that Iraqi sand, eh? Who knew!

            If, on the other hand, the USA wins the war and a stable semi-US-friendly government emerges and thus we can withdraw the troops, and Iraq still pumps enough to lower the price of gasoline by a $1 a ga

    • As an honest question, what useful things has Aricebo produced? Yes it is wonderful for tracking NEOs and providing quality information to astronomers, but what has the return been for ME on MY tax dollar? Maybe some breakthrough materials or perhaps some insights into physics that lead to new technologies?
      • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday July 05, 2008 @12:54PM (#24067171) Homepage

        Yes it is wonderful for tracking NEOs and providing quality information to astronomers, but what has the return been for ME on MY tax dollar?

        Anything that tracks NEOs gives you a return on your tax dollar in that it keeps you aware of any catastrophic threats.

        • by msauve (701917)

          Anything that tracks NEOs gives you a return on your tax dollar in that it keeps you aware of any catastrophic threats.

          Oh, like I want to know that I'm going to die next week. Really, knowing about some global catastrophic event in advance would probably just cause massive panic and unrest before we all die. What good is that? Where's the return?

        • by novakyu (636495)

          Anything that tracks NEOs gives you a return on your tax dollar in that it keeps you aware of any catastrophic threats.

          Just like this rock I hold in my hand is keeping bears away.

          Tell me when we actually have the ability to destroy and or deflect NEOs---or, even better, when we have actually detected an NEO that is a real threat.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by bschorr (1316501)
            So are you suggesting that just because we have few practical options for dealing with a dangerous NEO that it's better that we not even know about them at all? Perhaps we could spend our research dollars on peril-sensitive sunglasses? :-) -B-
      • As an honest question, what useful things has Aricebo produced? Yes it is wonderful for tracking NEOs and providing quality information to astronomers, but what has the return been for ME on MY tax dollar?

        Ensuring that there's no imminent repeat of this [wikipedia.org] on a more populated area?

        • Ensuring that there's no imminent repeat of this on a more populated area?

          That implies that humanity has the ability to take some kind of preventative action if a collision is imminent. As far as I know, we do not.
          • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by amccaf1 (813772) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:26PM (#24067431)

            Ensuring that there's no imminent repeat of this on a more populated area?

            That implies that humanity has the ability to take some kind of preventative action if a collision is imminent. As far as I know, we do not.

            Well, we probably couldn't shoot down an incoming meteoroid, but given enough warning time, we could at least begin an evacuation of the impact zone. Additionally, knowing that a sudden, shock explosion was due to a natural occurrence rather than a terrorist or "rogue state" could help prevent WWII being touched off...

            • by sconeu (64226)

              Additionally, knowing that a sudden, shock explosion was due to a natural occurrence rather than a terrorist or "rogue state" could help prevent WWII being touched off...

              1939 called. You're almost 70 years too late.

              • by amccaf1 (813772)

                D'oh! As always, I blame the font... (Either that, or I accidentally declared WWI to be non-canon...)

              • If you really study the History WW II was basically a re-escalation of WW I anyways

            • Yup, exactly. The one to watch out for, however, is the increasing aggression of a Nazi run Germany leading to the annexation of Poland, which could very conceivably start WWIII.

              Oh....hang on a second.... ;)

              In all seriousness, and as a cynical way to get more funding, someone should point out that whilst it may not be possible to avoid a collision, you could very well change the point of impact given some warning. Imagine if Bush had the option - strike off the east coast of the US, or delay it for
              • by novakyu (636495)

                Yup, exactly. The one to watch out for, however, is the increasing aggression of a Nazi run Germany leading to the annexation of Poland, which could very conceivably start WWIII.

                Er, that already happened. More than 4 years ago [idlewords.com]!

      • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Scott Ransom (6419) <sransom@n[ ].edu ['rao' in gap]> on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:07PM (#24067281)

        As an honest question, what useful things has Aricebo produced?

        How about a Nobel prize? (Amongst a bunch of other excellent bits of radio astronomy, aeronomy, and planetary science).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSR_B1913+16 [wikipedia.org]

      • by spineboy (22918) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:15PM (#24067337) Journal

        Much of basic research does not always produce immediately tangible results. SETI + Aricebo have produced massive distributed computing which is widely used now by many EXTREMELY worthwhile projects (protein folding, cancer research, etc). This is a basic tool now, and I'd say that's pretty valuable and productive.

        Just because it isn't directly dumping 200 MPG cars into your lap, or producing a magic fat dissolving drug, doesn't mean that it isn't helping you somehow.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A biggie was the radar return of the distance to Venus, which instantly corrected our measurements of the Earth-Sun distance, which then instantly changed the size of the Universe.

        You could just look at http://www.naic.edu/~nolan/radar/AUSAC.html [naic.edu]. Some big stuff there. Rotation rates of Mercury (which was in error) and Venus, for instance. Radar maps of the topography of Venus. All cheaply done. All this for twenty minutes in Iraq.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ROMRIX (912502)
      Create an account on the SETI forum and get to know those guys that run the place. They do squat there for what they're paid. I wish I could take a vacation like those guys. They're biggest decision is "What country do you want to go spend a month at?" Shit I'd be playing WOW all day too! Get to know them before you wish them (mine and your) millions.
      • Create an account on the SETI forum and get to know those guys that run the place. They do squat there for what they're paid. I wish I could take a vacation like those guys. They're biggest decision is "What country do you want to go spend a month at?" Shit I'd be playing WOW all day too! Get to know them before you wish them (mine and your) millions.

        Yes, all three of the people who work for SETI@home are billionaires from their SETI salaries. Did you ever try to run a scientific project and a web site visited daily by a few hundred thousand people with a staff of three part time employees? Are you on call for your job every hour of every day?

        To be serious, pay at SETI@home is, like typical university pay, about 70% of industry wages for the same work. And given that they aren't getting enough in donations to fund the three employees they have, the

    • by Illbay (700081)
      Every "special interest" (that's every single one of us, btw) says "we're spending untold dollars on X, Y and Z, which are CRAP! It is UNACCEPTABLE that MY pet project should be excluded!"

      One man's crap is, of course, another's caviar. When people use the term "special interests," they mean "every interest but mine, which is legitimate."

      If Congress had the balls - well, the Speaker is a woman, so choose your own euphemism - EVERYONE'S pet project would be trimmed, EVERYONE would walk away slightly piss

    • It's used for more than just SETI.
    • ...that because we spend alot of money poorly, we should spend more money poorly?

      I disagree - instead of writing Congress, those who want Aricibo funded should donate money directly, instead of trying to use the power of government to force everyone else to pay through taxes.
    • by jo42 (227475)

      How many minutes of the Iraq boondoggle, fuster cluck, invasion/occupation, meddling in the middle east once again would it cost to keep Aricebo running at the current, or higher, budget?

    • Yeah, pork for nerds is far more moral than pork for anyone else. Screw the Constitution, nerds want their pork chops!
    • This is insane. We're throwing untold billions of dollars away on useless, inconsequential or outright stupid things every year, and we can't afford a few million for something like Aricebo? Are we nuts?

      Yes, stop spending on inconsequential things... just not MY inconsequential things.

  • What if all SETI@Home crunchers donate 1 dollar/Euro? Problem temporarily solved, isn't it?
  • Perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nicklott (533496) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @12:40PM (#24067057)
    To put this into perspective, $6m is about the cost of the seat in a single F-22.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pipingguy (566974) *
      Yeah, but the F-22 actually, like, does "stuff".
      • Well - kinda (Score:5, Insightful)

        by spineboy (22918) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:17PM (#24067357) Journal

        The F-22 does stuff TO people, Aricebo does stuff FOR people.

        • by pipingguy (566974) *
          What, exactly, does Arecibo (note spelling) DO for people? F-22s are there so that they won't have to be used, but I guess you think they DO "THINGS" to people.

          Personally, I like the P-51 Mustang, those must be real cheap these days. You could probably get 20 for the price of one of those newfangled jets, plus it'd be much more cost effective for the coming slapdown of the American people by the military after everything goes haywire due to Global Warming or the latest panic.
          • by nicklott (533496)

            If they're not going to be used why has the US spent $62 billion on them?

            If think it's more likely you could get 200 P51s for the price of one f22. Interestingly, according to wikipedia, they originally cost $50k each to build, which is about $500k today (probably not far off their current price as antiques) so relatively speaking, state of the art in 1945 cost 1/300th of state of the art in 2008. They probably use a lot less fuel too, so when oil hits $300 a barrel they might be able to afford to fly the

        • by tjstork (137384)

          The F-22 does stuff TO people, Aricebo does stuff FOR people.

          Aricebo doesn't do anything for me at all. It's useless.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Aricebo doesn't do anything for me at all. It's useless.

            But you believe it will find aliens, there is a statistically significant chance that it will.

    • by Shivetya (243324)

      or a couple of fancy public restrooms in some Congressman's district for a park any rarely uses.

      Earmarks alone consume more science money than we can imagine. Look, the DOD will always be here, its a requirement to maintain our standard of living and be able to scare the pants of petty 3rd world dictators who think neighboring countries are new areas to invade or people of certain ethnic traits need to die.

      The real crime in our government is earmarks, essentially buying their seats of power with our tax do

      • Did you read the article you linked for the bathroom. They claimed the price was so high because they were building it to withstand vandals; it sounds like you'll need a jackhammer to damage anything. You can say that using the same toilets as prisoners is insulting, but too expensive? Won't it save money in the long term?

        The funding also is coming from the city, not Congress. It wasn't an earmark at all.

        Sheesh people, they want you to bitch about the war and the military. It allows them to roll right o

    • To put this into perspective, $6m is about the cost of the seat in a single F-22.

      Or to put it another way, provide health care for 1,768 people

  • Seeing the phrases "SETI@home" and "receiving messages..." made me jump to some obvious conclusions...
    • Haha, I suppose I could've phrased that better. I should've said SETI@home sends message of impending doom.......

      .

      .

      .

      .

      for Arecibo Observatory budget.

  • quick, claim you almost discovered the Higgs Boson!

  • Have they found any aliens yet? If not, why keep paying? Oh yeah, searching for "Killer Asteroids".
    • by smoker2 (750216)
      I'm stuck on a desert island. I looked for ships on the horizon, but there weren't any so I gave up.
  • DANG IT! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Illbay (700081) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @01:31PM (#24067477) Journal
    I read:

    "Many supporters of the SETI@home project have recently received a message..."

    And my heart leapt into my throat!

    The rest of the article was REALLY a big let-down after that, let me tell you.

  • Anything which doesn't make a profit will be purged. Its inevitable. We will end up being a society that churns out nothing but burgers and shit movies because those are the most profitable things.

    And you, all of your, helped make it happen. Give yourselves a pat on the back.

    • Is it "Anything which doesn't make a profit" or "Anything [outside the defence industry, of course] that, after having millions and millions of dollars pumped into it, produces nothing at all but calls for more money"?

      You might think it's valuable. I wonder why we're wasting millions of dollars on looking for aliens (and utterly failing) when we have bigger concerns much closer to home.
      • oops. Really should have done more than skim the summary, eh?

        Arecibo is valuable. It's SETI I have problems with.
        • by SETIGuy (33768)
          Yes, reading is good. You should try it more often. What makes you think that the government is spending ANY money searching for aliens let alone millions of dollars? Repeat after me: Currently the U.S. government does not fund SETI observations. Say it again. Repeat until it sinks in.

          Click on my signature to find out how SETI is really funded.
  • We know for a fact there are weapons of mass destruction [wikipedia.org] in space. Doesn't cutting funding to space research mean that the asteroids have won?

  • by Einer2 (665985) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @02:37PM (#24068081)
    The ground-based astronomical budget is finite, and the only way we're going to finance 50 shiny new programs is by shutting down the old ones that aren't scientifically competitive. Arecibo hasn't been scientifically competitive in a decade, and it won't ever be competitive in the era when we want to build LSST, PANSTARRS, TMT, ATA, ATST, and a dozen other acronyms.

    We've already had one near-miss, when Hillary Clinton tried to force some budget language funding Arecibo in the weeks before the Puerto Rico primary. She didn't earmark new funding, she just added a mandate that existing funding go there. Oddly enough, the legislation didn't mention which other ground-based program would be cut to free up the funds...

    • Aricebo is to radio telescopes what hubble and spitzer are to optical .

      It's the most sensitive EM listening post on the planet.

      I don't see what makes it "uncompetitive"

      • by Einer2 (665985) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @03:37PM (#24068677)
        There is no compelling science case for Arecibo that can't be pursued with other telescopes, especially since the frontier of radio astronomy has mostly moved from sensitivity (requiring big apertures) to resolution (requiring long-baseline arrays), or to shorter mm/submm wavelengths that Arecibo can't handle.

        They've actually moved a large fraction of Arecibo's time over to survey efforts: "We'll do the same piece of sky, but with a flux limit 3 times deeper!" Sorry, but there are too many programs with the potential for transformative new discoveries to keep a major observatory open purely for incremental science.

        • let's replace Arecibo with "hubble" or "spitzer"..

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Einer2 (665985)
            Hubble: Weak lensing. Reionization. Exoplanet transit characterization. Directly-imaged protoplanetary/debris disks.

            Spitzer: Transitional disks. ULIRGs. Exoplanet secondary transits. Star formation, period. Direct imaging of free-floating planetary-mass objects.

            See? It's not that hard, even if you don't stray too far outside your (or your colleagues') field of specialization. There really are a lot of important (and sexy) science cases floating around, they just don't really require Arecibo.

          • by SETIGuy (33768)
            No, let's replace Arecibo with "one ten thousandth of the cost of hubble or spitzer"
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Scott Ransom (6419)

          There is no compelling science case for Arecibo that can't be pursued with other telescopes, especially since the frontier of radio astronomy has mostly moved from sensitivity (requiring big apertures) to resolution (requiring long-baseline arrays), or to shorter mm/submm wavelengths that Arecibo can't handle.

          Sorry, but that is not true. Radio astronomy needs improvement in a wide variety of areas in order to tackle the tremendously wide variety of science that is done at radio bands. Examples include sensitivity, field-of-view, dynamic range, image fidelity, resolution, and wavelength coverage. But sensitivity is one of the most important. That is why the SKA is on the table to be the world's next generation decameter/centimeter wave radio telescope. The most important thing it provides is sensitivity (i.e

      • Hmmmm.. theres the VLA, the VLBA .. SKA on the way and many
        other radio scopes/arrays. Sometimes one has to let go.

        And I might add I would prefer to see funding restored to Iter than Aricebo.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tom Womack (8005)

      What is Arecibo's credible competition in the radio-bucket field, and particularly in the radio-transmitting field for planetary radar?

      You've listed a load of optical instruments, including ATST which is explicitly to study the Sun; the only radio one is the ATA whose area is about a sixth of Arecibo's and who can't benefit from elaborate ultra-low-noise receiver technology unless you want to build 350 dilution refrigerators to cool 350 copies of your instrument.

      The Square Kilometer Array isn't built yet, a

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Einer2 (665985)
        In an era where every telescope or survey has lifetime costs of tens to hundreds of millions, do you really think we can afford to slice up the pie by wavelength and not pit wavelengths against each other? Some fields naturally rise while others fall (just ask the solar people!), and it doesn't make sense to maintain the same fractional allocation of money.

        My argument, which also applies to Scott Ransom's post, is that there are so many science cases that are truly transformative, just doing reasonable sc

  • by Tweenk (1274968) on Saturday July 05, 2008 @03:49PM (#24068791)

    In times of recession the lawmakers get allergic to basic research, which they think is a kind of scientific hedonism. The thought pattern here seems to be that science is a shabby garden run by elitist weirdos. You water this garden with money and then you can pick the new drugs, weapons and consumer electronics growing on its trees. The lawmakers attempt to tidy up this garden in order to improve the yield of goodies by cutting down the trees that don't bear fruit. This can only be harmful in the end, because they don't have a faintest idea about gardening...

  • Desperately trying hard to find the slightest evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence while astronauts [wikipedia.org], pilots [wikipedia.org] and radar operators [hyper.net] witness UFO events that can hardly be explained by anything but what we're looking for so hard in the sky.

    But I guess that the term UFO inspires such a lack of credibility that we have to look hard to the sky where we won't see anything while ignoring what takes place in our atmosphere.

  • I think it is outrageous that we can spend trillions on Bushs war of lies and deciet in iraq but we cannot come up with $11 million for aricebo. It shows how corrupt the government has become, when Bushs wars of aggression of killing and death are more important than expanding human knowledge.

  • /me thinking about how hard it would be to gather a list of registered voters and fire up Quick Test Pro to automatically generate thousands of letters...

    Can't be too hard, right? I could probably have it done in less than a day. Geek power! :)

Make headway at work. Continue to let things deteriorate at home.

Working...