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Arecibo Observatory Loses Funding 185

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 WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @01:57PM (#21437477)
    I hate to say it, but I have to: ONE day of deployment in Iraq would pay for this thing.
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:06PM (#21437609)
    It seems insane to end such a cost effective program but government rarely makes sense. I guess they could change their program to search for proof the Universe is 6,000 years old then do real science in a clandestined manner like it was done 800 years ago. How far we've come.
  • WTF (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:11PM (#21437687)
    Arecibo is not simply looking for SETI. It is one of the most sensitive Radio telescopes in the world, and has a good list of Astronomic discoveries [naic.edu] under its belt:

    # The first planets outside the solar system were discovered around Pulsar B1257+12, a rapidly rotating pulsar with three Earth-like planets in orbit. ( early 1990s )

    # One of its first accomplishments: Establishing the rotating rate of Mercury, which turned out to be 59 days rather than the previously estimated 88 days ( 1965 ).

    # Detailed maps of the distribution of galaxies in the universe ( late 1980s ).

    # The first pulsar in a binary system was discovered ( 1974 ), leading to important confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity and a Nobel Prize for astronomers Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor ( 1993 ).

    # Investigations of ice craters at the polar regions of the planet Mercury with the radar system ( 1990s ) and similar investigation of the lunar poles for evidence of ice ( 1997 ).

    # Provided much of our pre-Magellan mission knowledge of the surface of Venus via 1.5 km resolution imagery of the surface through the planet's cloud cover using the radar system.

    # The observatory has made major contributions to our understanding of the chemistry and dynamics of the Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    # Discovery of two classes of pulsars: millisecond pulsars, which rotate several hundred times per second, and slower-rotating pulsars, which rotate about once per second. The slow-rotating pulsars speed through space, while millisecond pulsars move slowly through space.

    Closing down Arecibo would be like closing down the Fermi Lab particle accelerator to Particle Physics. Its A MASSIVE asset to the Radio Astronomy field, and this short sidedness to get a few measly million (when compared to the countless millions allocated to other projects) is Absurd

  • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:11PM (#21437693)
    "Iraq has nothing to do with it, raising that as an issue is just beyond ignorant."

    Sooo - if you're short 2 million dollars, don't look to an place where the budget is bleeding billions?

    You know, a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you're talking some real money. NASA was also just recently cutting back. Obviously we (the USA) have LOTS of cash to burn as long as it fits the correct agenda. 6 BILLION seems a lot - ever seen what the DOD gets? 440 Billion. That's a pretty large investment, I think. I would suggest that perhaps cutting them back a few billion could maybe MAYBE do some good in other sectors.

    Oh, sorry. I'm spreading humainst FUD. My bad. Ignore the troubles - watch out for terrorists!
  • Uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wurp ( 51446 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:12PM (#21437705) Homepage
    The whole National Science Foundation has a $6 billion budget, but we spend $75 billion a year (off budget, mind you, that's not counting the $400 billion a year we spend on defense) on a war that does nothing but foment hatred against the US?

    I think our (and your) priorities are a bit off.
  • to lose something so precious over so little money. With all the billionaires running around, someone should step up and pledge the money to keep Arecibo online.
  • by bockelboy ( 824282 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:27PM (#21437909)
    SIX BILLION dollars is a pathetic amount of money for research

    NSF funds programs in biology, math, CS, engineering, geosciences, physics and astronomy, education, and sociology. So, that's probably less than ONE BILLION dollars per subject. So, we spend the same amount of money for one day in Iraq than a year's worth of physics research.

    It's commonly accepted that general research pushes technological boundaries back which can drive research in the economy. So, if we are an "idea based economy", we had better invest in infrastructure.
  • Re:Uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:30PM (#21437949)
    Exactly how does that solve the problem of most other countries seeing through the blind nationalism of the half of the country that worships the flag rather than a mainstream religion?

    I mean seriously, the nationalists are the biggest threat to America's well being, joining them isn't going to solve the problems that ignorance of science and international politics brings.

    I'm not trolling here, I am genuinely curious as to how further weakening our reputation in the international community is going to lead to the international community loving us.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:31PM (#21437961) Homepage
    The problem with renting research facilities is that the people with the best and most innovative research proposals are often too poor to pay the fees. Cost recovery sounds great on paper. It often doesn't work as intended in the real world.
  • by Kildjean ( 871084 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:39PM (#21438081) Homepage
    Otro Puertorro ignorante...

    I have to say your comment is very ignorant, specially because you are form the island, you should know how some things are just tourist traps. But there is a lot of things to do at the radar if you know how to look at it. For example, there is this nature tourist group called Aventuras Tierra Adentro (Adventures in the Motherland), that will take you around, and under the radar, not only seeing the technological wonder the Observatory is, but how it was constructed, why they chose the Arecibo Valley to place its location and more importantly how has the vegetation and fauna of the area has been affected by its presence.

    More importantly why is the observatory so important to Science, and how powerful the observatory really is compared to other radio telescopes.

    Further more, I don't know where you went, but the museum on the top of the hill inside the observatory has the basic information for the radar. There is a movie theater where they run a documentary of the radar, its location and how it was constructed. Also the discoveries they have made using the Radar are displayed in the museum. The old radio equipment they are exhibiting there goes to show what they were using back in the day to do what the radar does now. Aside from that, the radar received an overhaul recently. Its actual transmiting time of information towards outerspace is of minutes and the retrieval of data is also in minutes compared to the observatory in New Mexico which takes 12 hours to receive or send any kind of data to outerspace.

    Granted the observatory is not a place to take 30 family members with noisy children. Its a hike, and if you are not in shape, granted you will need a breather when you get on top. But it is not a bad experience or one that makes you feel you wasted your time going to. It is located in a beautiful valley, lots of nice restaurants around, great view, the trip is not so bad and if you finish early, you can always head out for the West Coast and have some Mojitos and seafood in Rincon. ;)

    I can tell you all this because I recently (from oct 16 to oct 31 2007) went to Puerto Rico and took my fiancee with me. She is North American and she was fascinated with the radar and how impressive it is. She is not as big of a Nerd/Geek like I am, but she was able to appreciate the wonder it is.

    You should be proud this technological wonder is sitting in the mountains of the country you love so much. To me its always been one of those things that should be considered a Wonder of the World, because its simply humbles you as a human being to look at one of the modern marvels we have constructed in our time.

    Or you are not as much of a Science Nut as you think you are... :o
  • by MrKevvy ( 85565 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:45PM (#21438155)
    "I hate to say it, but I have to: ONE day of deployment in Iraq would pay for this thing."

    I hate to correct your being off by over an order of magnitude... 90 minutes of Iraq war would pay for the whole budget [usatoday.com] and 20 minutes would pay for how much was just cut from it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:45PM (#21438159)
    So lets play the "Make Believe" game:

    The Hilldebeast or Barack Hussien Obama win the election. The new President pulls out the troops (leaving a failed state in the heart of the Middle East). Now we have all those billions available. Do you think the new President will:
    A) Spend the money on scientific projects.
    B) Spend the money on socialist welfare programs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:51PM (#21438223)
    Call my cynical, but I'm going with

    C) Porkbarrel projects that benefit the special interest groups
  • FUDdy duddy? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Applekid ( 993327 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @02:51PM (#21438235)

    Arecibo Observatory Loses Funding
    No, it was cut about 25%. If it lost funding, it would have zero funding.

    The Arecibo Observatory funding was slashed.
    No, it was cut about 25%, it's still at $8 million. I suppose next time I trip and fall I can describe it as me "plummeting towards the ground."

    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
    So it was cut so we could get new stuff? How do we know the new stuff isn't going to be good? I guess the quarter of the staff that was laid off would, shockingly, have someplace new to work.

    Guess I should hurry
    Yup, because not only is it going to be closed for sure, but the evil government lackeys will fill in the crater upon which it was built. With concrete. And then put some Walmarts on it.

    There's a lot of events in scientific funding that are a damn shame but this one really isn't that horrible. There really is no need to FUD this one up.
  • by Man On Pink Corner ( 1089867 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @03:47PM (#21439077)
    In case your version of news hasn't covered it, there isn't much of a "war" actually going on. In fact, large portions of Iraq are extremely peaceful.

    Whatever it is, it's extremely expensive, and we have better things to do. When we leave, it will take about six months for Iraq to return to the same condition it was in when we found it (ruled by a dictator) or worse (all-out civil war).

    Knowledge gained at Arecibo and similar facilities lasts forever.

    So what's a better investment?
  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @04:06PM (#21439305) Homepage Journal
    It's mind-numbing because you choose the comfortable delusion that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the two parties or between various factions for and against this war and everything in-between. Cognitive dissonance creates stress.

    Oh, to make this on-topic: don't discount the thousands who have died in the Iraq war, versus the potential of saving all life on earth, now and in the future, due to the discovery of an earth-bound asteroid.

    Risk evaluation (and mitigation) is all about measuring probably times cost. Think about that, the next time the common pretext of "weapons of mass destruction" comes up.
  • by Petronius Arbiter ( 548328 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @04:31PM (#21439597)
    The funding was cut because its own community of researchers no longer considers it to be very important. Specifically a panel of experts was tasked to prioritize expenditures in radio astronomy. IIRC, Arecibo was ranked approximately fourth.

    There are more cost-effective solutions, such as very long baselines and antenna arrays. Those have advantages like being able to resolve smaller angles.

    The radio astronomers might have been playing a Washington-monument game. (The legend is that Congress threatened to cut the Parks budget, so the NPS threatened to close the Washington Monument.) That is, they hoped that the public outcry that has, in fact, occurred on /. would lead to more money coming into their field. I, personally, have no sympathy for such tactics. When I was in the government, I suspect that experts may have tried that on me once or twice. I never caved.

    Good science requires ruthlessness. The idea that any particular icon or business is too big or too famous to fail has been very bad for the economy and would hurt the US scientifically.
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @04:33PM (#21439631) Homepage Journal
    TROLL rated comment.

    But can ANY OF YOU honestly say that if Iraq wasn't occurring (which btw I think has gone far too long) that the budget issue faced here wouldn't still be present?

    Face it, the government budget process is all about buying votes and paying off political donors through whatever method that they can do it.

    This project is probably not getting funding because
    a. Its not in a voting member's domain
    b. Its not flashy
    c. Its not in the news enough to interest people

    It certainly isn't being sidelined because of Iraq. In fact the NSF keeps getting bigger budgets year after year!

    Why not ask, what EARMARK can be converted to real science instead of building memorials to living Congressmen!

    What is so sad is the damn partisan hate on places like /., it clouds intelligent discussion and the same people abuse the moderation system to take out their petty hatred of one side or the other, regardless of the poster's position. In essence, dare not point out the truth when a more /. (Read:PC) item can be blamed.

    If you want science like this continue don't raise Iraq with your Congressmen, instead raise the issue of America falling behind in science. Write your Congressmen today (I wrote both of my Senators and provided the link to the article). If you do not know your Congressmen then use WIKIPEDIA to find them!

    Look, we aren't going to save valid science expenditures by going on about Iraq, fact is most of Congress doesn't really care anymore about Iraq and will write you off as just a whiner. Instead PROMOTE it on its own merits. That is how we can advance the cause of science. Get your friends to write. Congressmen react to many people showing concern over what may be an item they never heard of. The amount of money needed that most can slip it in on any old bill.

    I am sure there are many science friendly Congressmen, it needs to be brought to their attention as well.

    Yes Iraq sucks and its eating billions, but to blame it for every little project that is favored here and elsewhere is to ignore the way Congress works. They are buying votes with your tax dollars, Iraq offends many of them because it deprives them of billions to spend - not just because its wrong. Show Congress that this is a concern! Otherwise you will be left with taking out your hatred for others on message boards and getting nothing done
  • by spxero ( 782496 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @05:16PM (#21440193) Journal
    promote the general welfare

    That is the key right there. We should be trying to promote general welfare, not give general welfare.
  • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @05:21PM (#21440257)
    Thank you for posting such an insightful and well-thought-out comment on slashdot... they're rare, and worth seeing. It's why I read it :)

    Ok - I agree with you that bitching about Iraq doesn't get the science field funding. I *totally* disagree that we should stop bitching about it. I think it is important to keep pressure on our reps and our media with our viewpoints... whatever they may be.

    I also agree that even in the best of times Arecibo would probably still get budget cuts. That's life. Convincing an increasingly anti-science country to fund more science is a long fight, and one that's being lost.

    I personally chose against a path in science after college (wasting all that math education) because I was dismayed to learn that the US economy really had no science jobs that paid decently. Scientists in the US... hell, SCIENCE in the US, is a joke. We are one of the richest countries in the world, we do lots of good science, but rather than do *great* science we would rather waste money on every little thing but.

    Our military prides themselves on their tech. Our government largely funds development of this tech. Good, but we need more tech research than simply ways to kill and avoid death. Most medical research money goes to 'political' causes. Cure the popular diseases, let the rest figure it out. Astronomy has little to do with the government's plans, so there isn't a lot of focus on it. The same goes for every science with no short-term glamour. I do my part - I contribute to science foundations, teach science to my kids and their classmates, and do what I can to encourage science.

    So no - I don't think that we would ever see a drastic over-spending effort on science in the US.
    But I sure as hell won't stop trying to get one :)
  • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @05:48PM (#21440621)
    Not to rain on your parade, but the price of oil has only increased since the start of the Iraq war, with a short period of decline where it dropped significantly but not to the price it was before the war in Iraq. In March 2003 Oil was trading at $35/barrel. It is currently hovering around the $85/barrel mark with forays closer to $100/barrel.

    The war destabilized oil prices, and until we get out of there, they won't remain stable for any long periods.

    I agree though, the chances of the earth being hit by a significant asteroid are ridiculously low and to say we should fund Arecibo for that purpose, is just noise. There are plenty of good reasons to keep funding sites like this, but using fear of uncertain doom is childish.
  • by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:02PM (#21440783) Homepage
    If you care so much about it, feel free to step up and pledge whatever you think is appropriate [arecibo-observatory.org]. Protetcing your interests isn't just for rich strangers, you know.
  • Re:Uh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp@noSpAM.Gmail.com> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:34PM (#21441171) Homepage Journal
    "I'm not trolling here, I am genuinely curious as to how further weakening our reputation in the international community is going to lead to the international community loving us."

    You're just recycling John Kerry's "rebuild our alliances" argument. Its just as flawed now as it was then.

    We've refused to abandon Iraq and Afghanistan, and rather than pushing Europe over the edge, those aging-leftists that were in office have been kicked out. Germany? Elected pro-alliance Angela Merkel. Britain? The new PM says America is "their most important ally". France? The French elected a man that's unabashedly pro-US. Canada? US-friendly Stephen Harper was just put into office.

    Meanwhile, the countries that were pro-US all along....Italy, Japan, Poland, the list goes on....are still pro-US.

    And our policies have stayed the same.

    So, just what alliances were we supposed to "rebuild"?

    Russia? China? Venezuela?

    The "international community" is never going to love us. But most are never going to truly hate us either. Because nations don't have friends, they have interests. Its in Western Europe's interest to be our ally. Its in Russia's interest to undermine us. None of it is done out of love, or hate. Politics is, and always has been, cold calculation.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @07:54PM (#21442007)
    > In case your version of news hasn't covered it, there isn't much of a "war" actually going on. In fact, large portions of Iraq are extremely peaceful. I'm sick and tired of people, even those that support operations in Iraq, calling it a "war".

    Oh. So when a country invade another one and replace the government, and the citizen are resisting against the invader, it is not a war anymore. Mmm. Good to know.

    > Right now, it is an occupation by invitation of the Iraqi government.

    I don't remember Sadam Hussein inviting the troops over there. But my memory may be weak. You can't seriously mean "invitation by the government put in place by the occupant", can you ?

    > And besides, the whole (R) wars bad, (D) wars good (or visa versa) theology is mind numbing. And yes, it borders upon religious (on both sides).

    Both (R) and (D) voted for this war-that-we-should-not-call-a-war.

    There is nothing religious here. US made war to Iraq, and is now occupying the country, with a $10b/month cost.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Thursday November 22, 2007 @12:01PM (#21446407)
    Risk evaluation (and mitigation) is all about measuring probably times cost

    I think you probably meant probability. Governments (all governments) are notorious for making poor judgments when it comes to cost-benefit analysis. Well, that's not entirely true ... they're generally very good at spending money for their own benefit. People are generally bad at that too, and at least in America's case, the advancing innumeracy facing our population doesn't help one bit. I know people that will cheerfully swallow completely outrageous statistics. For example, I was watching the end of some crime drama which said "did you know that every second of every day, ten women are raped and killed in the United States alone?" Very impressive, scary numbers. Of course, the producers of the show didn't provide any sources for this amazing statement, so I'm assuming they just pulled it out of their collective asses.

    I can state, with some certainty, that 315,360,000 people (roughly the entire population of the United States) were not raped and murdered last year. I know this, because I'm one of those people and I think I'd remember it. Yet government agencies and filmmakers and everyone else with an agenda can bandy such arrant nonsense about because they know they can get away with it. Far too many people can't handle simple arithmetic, much less basic statistics, and will simply accept well-presented, scientific-sounding lies because they don't know any better. If your goal is the manipulation of public opinion for fun and profit, this is a remarkably convenient state of affairs. Makes you wonder if the present drain-bamaged condition of the American school system was entirely accidental.

    What's worse, people that I know could see right through these untruths if they simply applied their brains can't be bothered. These are the same individuals that wonder what happened to America. "Where did we go wrong?!" they cry. "You went wrong," I tell them.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!