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Funding Cut For Arecibo Observatory 161

Posted by Hemos
from the haven't-they-seen-contact dept.
satorchi writes "In a recent Senior Review conducted by the National Science Foundation, a panel of experts recommended the reduction of funding to Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope. Unless other sources of funding are found, Arecibo faces severe cuts in its program, with the prospect of closure around the year 2011. Development of the global project called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is cited as a reason to decommission Arecibo, but with the SKA coming online around the year 2020, closure of Arecibo in 2011 is some ten years premature. Until SKA is up and running, Arecibo remains the world's most sensitive radio telescope."
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Funding Cut For Arecibo Observatory

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  • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
    Save money there so there'll be more money for the war in Eastasia^W Iraq. It's not like the proles will really notice unless you take away their telescreens.

    -b.

    • Problem is, the money saved will probably only cover the costs of a few hours...
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Problem is, the money saved will probably only cover the costs of a few hours...

        So just cut all federal funding to the universities. It might give us another month over there... (Oh wait, we are already cutting academic funding except for security-related research).

        -b.

    • "Eastasia^W Iraq"

      Iraq is in western Asia.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Iraq is in western Asia.

        Was making a 1984/Orwell joke...

        -b.

        • by krell (896769)
          Was wondering, but was not sure. Many forget that Iraq is entirely an Asian nation.
          • Vizzini [imdb.com]: You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha...

            • by krell (896769)
              Sorry, that one was new to me. I'm the only person in the world who didn't really like this movie.
              • by Doc Ruby (173196)
                See it with a chick. Or read the book - it's even brider. It's worth the effort. If it fails, test yourself for Vulcan blood.
                • by krell (896769)
                  "If it fails, test yourself for Vulcan blood."

                  I thought I scrubbed it all off! I'll be more careful next time.
    • by operagost (62405)
      So is the SKA really a code name for some sort of WMD? Or are you just a moron who is not afraid to show it?
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        So is the SKA really a code name for some sort of WMD? Or are you just a moron who is not afraid to show it?

        ??? No, I'm saying that with the amount of money we spend annually on Iraq, certain other government projects have to get the axe. There's limited money to go around and we're already up to our nipples in debt. Pretty soon, we'll be in up to our noses and unable to breathe, so something's got to give, I guess.

        And no need to resort to ad-hominem attacks. We're not in grade school here...

        -b.

        • by Dun Malg (230075)

          No, I'm saying that with the amount of money we spend annually on Iraq, certain other government projects have to get the axe. There's limited money to go around and we're already up to our nipples in debt. Pretty soon, we'll be in up to our noses and unable to breathe, so something's got to give, I guess.

          Actually, no. You're working from the ridiculous premise that the federal budget has some sort of "balance" to it, that a greater expense in one area must necessarily be countered by an equal cut elsewher

          • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
            Our government doesn't work like that. If it runs low on cash, it just basically prints more money.

            Money has to be worth something - i.e. it has to be backed up by assets, tangible objects that it can be traded for, or services. If you print more money, money will just experience a commensurate reduction in value. Weimar Germany tried that and people ended up bringing baskets of money to the store to buy a loaf of bread.

            -b.

        • So does the money get shot into solar orbit or something? The money the USG spends on Defense or even oppretations in Iraq really aren't any different the spending the money on Arecibo, other than what it's spent on. Government spending is Government spending, the money goes into accounts, gets re-spend on other things. The money spent generates profits for companies and income for people and this gets taxed which again gives the government more money to spend.
  • SETI@HOME (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rlp (11898) on Monday November 06, 2006 @07:57AM (#16733909)
    The article doesn't say how much funding it takes to operate Arecibo. If everyone who runs the SETI@HOME screensaver kicked in a couple of bucks, I wonder if it would make a difference.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by brian.glanz (849625)

      If Google AdSense ran inside the SETI screensaver, what would it show? I ran a little test in Gmail just now with relevant text from SETI, and returned:

      Sponsored Links

      Moon Sand $29.95

      Molds like dough. Use over & over again. Ships next day. [redacted]

      Space Ringtone

      Send this complimentary ringtone to your phone right now! [redacted]

      Pluto Astronomy T-Shirts

      Planetary science & geology humor cool t-shirts & gifts. Fast ship. [redacted]

      Eh, not so bad. BG

      • by Fëanáro (130986)
        Google Adsense would presumably start with a selection like the one above and then increase ads that are often clicked on and ads for the same keywords as those, while randlomly introducing ads for new keywords, thereby findig the ads that appeal to the seti demographic.
      • by SETIGuy (33768)
        We are a non-profit group inside a non-profit University. Commercial advertising is against university policy and would threaten our non-profit status. Any non-profit that does use commercial advertising should think twice, as it is clearly a violation of the rules set out for income earned by non-profit entities. The IRS could come a knocking...
        • SETI@home was not started by, nor was it designed by SETI. A few volunteers conceived of and technically produced it. If you're that worried, a similar arrangement could certainly be made.

          In the early days up here in Seattle, pitches were made to major corporations. Paramount Pictures donated US$50,000. Sun Microsystems donated server hardware, and they are one of several commercial entities advertised for on the sponsors page of the SETI site still today.

          That's just SETI. As for the non-profit holiness o

    • It costs about $12M/yr to operate Arecibo,
      according to the Senior Review report.
    • Then, go SKA dancing AND looking for ET at the same time. (Ahh, yae, yahh, Ahh, yae, yahh...)
      • by neurostar (578917)

        Actually, that is possible. I was at the SKA meeting this past Friday and listened to the talk by the SETI people. They would be able to do their thing during normal science operations by the SKA.

    • by DirtyJ (576100)
      According to the Senior Review summary, the budget for Arecibo is $12 million per year. Some of this goes to hardware maintenance, but most goes to employing the 155 people who keep the place running.

      The problem with depending on small donations, I would imagine, is that long-range planning for such a large facility requires some kind of commitment that the source of funding will be stable year after year. In other words, there must be institutional support for the lion's share of the budget.

  • [pedant] The "National Science Foundation" link is going to nsf.org - not nsf.gov as it should [/pedant]
  • and did anyone tell the blind dude? They can just move their operation to the VLA in New Mexico, I guess.
    • I heard they were using it to contact aliens... if thats true then i want to give them my money because I want aliens to come to earth. It sounds like a great way to spend a lot of money... contacting aliens. In short, I think there are far more scientific ways to spend money. Also, if anyone has read Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, you know what can happen with a government science agency. Even the military knows that science is better left to companies that are competing to make money. Competition is
  • The field of astronomy has a long history (at least 30 years) of being able
    to set priorities for funding, sometimes making hard decisions between projects This self discipline helps it greatly in government funding when funding decisions have to be made between project and facilities; otherwise projects would get "peanut buttered" to death, with too little money spread over too many projects.

    If the scientists won't give guidance to the paper pushers, then they do the politically expedient decisions; the har
  • Aren't there some VLT arrays more sensitive ?
    • by hcdejong (561314)
      No. VLBI [wikipedia.org] arrays offer higher resolution, but less sensitivity (gain).
    • by imsabbel (611519)
      Depends on what you want.
      With interferometry, you can get virtual baselenghts the size of the earth.

      But when you want to get a weak signal, the 300m dish has an order of mangnitude more collection area than the closed 2nds.
  • by jimmichie (993747) on Monday November 06, 2006 @08:23AM (#16734137)
    Arecibo remains the world's most sensitive radio telescope.
    I guess it's not going to take the news too well, then.
  • by mmorles (1023403) on Monday November 06, 2006 @08:32AM (#16734215)
    As a radio astrophysicist, I have to chime in to say that the Senior Review by the NSF (and the associated potential close of Arecibo) is a ballsy move and absolute the right thing to do. This is good governance. In response to the first post, the operating cost of Arecibo is $12M per year. The basic problem is that there are a number of very exciting new projects people want to build, but in an era of flat funding profiles you have to make hard decisions and close something before you can open something else. The Senior Review is made up of senior astronomers, and is how the NSF makes these decisions. The Senior Review also recommended cutting back a number of other facilities, including the Very Long Baseline Array (world's highest resolution images, but only of bright objects), and Kitt Peak, Sacramento Peak and GONG++ on the optical side. The full text of the Senior Review is available at the NSF astronomy website (includes some neat stuff about the science). So what are radio astronomer planning to do instead? As mentioned in the first post there is the SKA, but the real motivation is to clear up money to finish and run ALMA which works at 100s of GHz (top near 700 GHz) and is at 17,000 feet in Chile. The cool thing about ALMA is looking at planet formation and being able to do chemistry in star forming regions, because you can see all the molecular line transitions you can figure out the amino acids etc. in these very young stellar systems (it also does a lot of other things). There are also a number of smaller and very neat projects coming along. One I am working on is called the Mileura Widefield Array - Low Frequency Demonstrator (MWA-LFD). The MWA works down at TV and radio frequencies (80-300 MHz, FM radio is 88-106 MHz), and is in the western Australian desert to avoid earth based transmissions. We have three cool features, we can make an image of the radio sky that is 30 degrees across (a significant fraction of the visibile sky) every few seconds (transients), see the magnetic fields in coronal mass ejections from our sun (space weather), and my piece which is looking at the very first galaxies as they formed 12 billion years ago so we can understand how the galaxies and clusters formed (the latest Scientific American has a neat article by Avi Loeb about this science in the current issue). So in short, radio astronomers want to do new things, and unfortunately that means hard decisions about what to keep and what to close. The NSF is making these hard decisions with the help of the community. And while it saddens me that this needs to be done, the NSF should be commended for doing it. This is good government and the public should be proud. -Miguel F. Morales
    • Before you flame NSF, check out the parent post....
    • by xeno-cat (147219)
      I think what people are mostly complaining about is that if it only takes $12 million a year to run Arecibo, the US government should just give half the troops in Iraq a few hours off in order to come up with the capital. Arecibo is a lot of infrastructure that will be more costly than $12 million a year to science if it is shut down.

      The NSF may be making good, ballsy decisions with what they have. People are saying that they should have more. At least I am, and a lot of other posts, too.

      Kind Regards
    • by nametaken (610866)


      That's interesting stuff... thanks for that.

    • I must disagree... (Score:3, Informative)

      by SETIGuy (33768)
      I am an astrophysicist that doesn't limit myself to radio observations and I have to disagree with the above sentiment. The root cause of this issue is not the new instruments that are coming online. The long term cause is flat budgets. The current administration doesn't value this kind of research.

      The short term cause is the Director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO) convincing a senator to earmark a significant portion of the NSF astronomy funding for NRAO. Since most of that mone

      • Aside from the rah-rah SETI nuts, the general public doesn't give a damn about radio astronomy.
      • I might sound like I'm trying to protect the boss given where I work, but that is not the case. The fact is, your view that NRAO tried to get earmarks is not correct. Did we (actually our managing organization AUI) lobby congress for funds? Yes. But ask for earmarks? No. The fact is, there are two very influential senators (one in WV and the other in NM, where our main telescopes are) that _really_ want to bring money to their districts. When they hear that "their" observatories have a problem (like
        • by SETIGuy (33768)

          The fact is, your view that NRAO tried to get earmarks is not correct. Did we (actually our managing organization AUI) lobby congress for funds? Yes. But ask for earmarks? No.

          Well, given that earmarks are the only way an organization funded by NSF is going to get funds outside of the normal NSF review process, to "lobby for funds" is the same as to "ask for earmarks." That lobbying was a way to bypass the way NSF normally allocates their funds, which is in theory based upon scientific merit. NSF is pr

    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      Can't seem to find your e-mail, but are you the same Prof. Morales who teaches astrophysics at a university in a coastal town in California and also does work at a gamma-ray observatory a few states to the east? If you're the same Prof. Morales, I heard your lecture at a small school with a good physics dept just outside of Philadelphia in 2001 or 2002. Keep up the interesting work.

      -b.

    • Hey Miguel,

      Nice summary.

      Scott
  • While the SKA is kinda neat, there is a group of radio astronomers from "Big Ear" who are working on something very similar to SKA, but, is up and functional with at least 20 elements right now.

    The group is NAAPO [naapo.org] and it includes Dr. Bob Dixon as well as Jerry Ehman -- both of Big Ear Fame -- do have somewhat active roles within the organization. Their Argus project is very similar in the SKA, with the exception is that it's already running, and you can see the live data on the web and do your 'own observin
  • This thread wouldn't be complete without a Google Maps link.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&z=17&ll=18.3444,-6 6.7527&spn=0.0054,0.0084&t=k [google.com]

    Apparently they added hi-resolution pictures of it in the past few months.

  • Money for torture in Guantanamo, but no money for science in Arecibo.

    We're building the Cuban economy while shafting the Puerto Rican economy. But oh, the things we'll learn - about the sadists who run the US.
    • by Guppy06 (410832)
      "shafting the Puerto Rican economy."

      See, this is what happens when you're not a state: nobody in Congress to ensure that pork keeps coming your way.
  • by Jboost (960475)
    Until SKA is up and running, Arecibo remains the world's most sensitive radio telescope."
    What about LOFAR [wikipedia.org] then?
  • What is happening here is part of the normal review process for the NSF.

    The NSF does a very thorough review of grant proposals based on a set of requirements. The grant writer has to show how they will meet those requirements for the proper use and accounting of funds. Some of the requirements *may* include the following:

    * NSF projects must include education outreach and community involvement. For example taking on internships and hosting talks at local schools. * The project must show ample leader
    • These factors and many more are reviewed extensively every few years to make sure the project is on track with the goals. If the project has weaknesses, they are notified, and given time to fix the weaknesses. If they still cannot fix problems with the project, the review board will recommended that the project be cut. Most likely (IMHO) the project is failing due to poor management/leadership. The Lead PI is not able to inspire the other investigators to find alternative grant sources, and thus they are no

  • A great deal of good science has been conducted at Arecibo over the last 40+ years but there is only so much money to go around and priorities must be determined. I'm confident however that private funding (from American sources) will take up where NSF leaves off if only because the SKA is a long way off in both time and geographical distance (the SKA will be constructed in either Australia or South Africa). We have yet to hear the last of, or more accurately, from, El Radar.

    Now, isn't it time we started

  • You see, it turns out it was her dad all along, so we dont really need it anymore.
  • So what will happen to the land the observatory occupies if it is desactivated? more condo's anyone?
  • and she's PISSED..
  • I'm an astronomy grad student, and I read the executive summary of the real report, and here is what they recommend in the ~2010-2020 time frame for ground based observing:

    OPTICAL
    Reduce/cut off funding for Gemini Observatory
    commence construction of Giant Segmented Mirror telescope (~30m telescope) and Large Survey Telescope

    RADIO
    Reduce funding for or close completely Arecibo observatory and the VLBA
    Reduce administrative costs at NRAO and the Green Bank Telescope
    Start funding construction of Square Kilometer
  • No worries... only a matter of time before the guy who cut the funding is blown away by Jake Busey and Jodie Foster finds out that (surprise!) John Hurt built a second machine...

    Lesson: When soliciting funds for SETI projects from an eccentric billionaire, quote Marty McFly at the last minute.
  • by Darlantan (130471) on Monday November 06, 2006 @02:45PM (#16739561)
    The answer is really simple.
    Don't buy 1 F-22 Raptor.

    Seriously. Shave one off of the list of aircraft to buy. From what I'm seeing, the per-unit cost of those aircraft is in excess of $100M. Bam, funding for the next five years (or more) is done. I'm doubting we'll really notice the difference, militarily.

    Or here's another idea: We could cut some of the rediculous spending elsewhere. Most of it is military, yeah, but I'm sure if we look hard enough, there are more bridges to nowhere that can be cut instead.

    FFS, stop cutting science spending. Spending money on research is almost always a good idea, even if it doesn't pay off immediately. It's not that difficult, really. Learning = good. Duh.

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