Here's something to make ya grumble and afterward somewhat of a challenge.
Eric Korpela wrote:
As some people noted in other parts of the forums, there was an article in the Washington Post this weekend about the crisis in NSF funding for the Arecibo Observatory (and, perhaps, radio astronomy in general.) I just want to let everyone know that we are aware of the situation and are planning to fight for Arecibo's future.And then this:
Dan and some others that I work with were in Washington this week attending a meeting to discuss the scientific future of Arecibo. The observatory does have unique capabilities, primarily because of its size. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) currently has 42 dishes (not all have yet been operational), but the combined collecting area of those dishes is about 1.5% of the area of the Arecibo telescope. If ATA is able to get funding for an additional 40 dishes that will be 3% of the Arecibo collecting area. Even at the initially proposed 300 dishes (which won't happen any time soon) it is a small fraction of the collecting area of Arecibo. ATA's power comes from being able to focus in on smaller areas of the sky, which makes it an excellent instrument for looking for signals from specific stars, but inappropriate for surveys of large sky areas like SETI@home. Only when the Square Kilometer Array is fully operational (scheduled for 2020, but who knows) will Arecibo's capability be surpassed.
What led us to this funding problem? Primarily a combination of flat budgets for astronomy research and expensive new instruments. The National Science Foundation budget for Astronomy is about $200 million dollars per year, and prior to this year, the budget for Arecibo was about $10 million. Neither of those numbers are chump change, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. If the NSF doesn't get a budget increase for Astronomy and doesn't close some facilities, there will be a $30 million dollar shortfall, so Arecibo isn't the only facility in trouble.
What does make Arecibo different is that most of those other facilities are in states, whereas Arecibo is in a U.S. protectorate. Puerto Rico doesn't have Senators to help protect budget appropriations. It does have Representatives, but the last time I checked, their representatives are not voting members of the Congress.
On the other hand, there is the National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO) which has facilities in West Virginia (home of Senator Byrd) and New Mexico (home of Senator Domenici). Arecibo is NOT part of NRAO. A couple years ago the director of NRAO called his senators and said NRAO needed $2 million more than NSF was going to give it. So Byrd and Domenici earmarked $4 million (yes $4 million) in additional funds for NRAO. Of course that money had to come from somewhere else in the NSF astronomy budget. That was when Arecibo's budget was reduced by $2 million. I don't know where the other $2 million came from.
The directory of the Planetary Society said, in the Post article, that an earmark might be a good option for keeping Arecibo open. I'm not so sure, given that any money earmarked for Arecibo will come from some other Astronomy program. A better option is a 15% (constant dollars) increase in the NSF Astronomy budget over the next 5 years.
I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well. We may organize a full letter writing campaign in the near future to help get our point across to Congress, but there's no need to wait for that. Letters work better than emails, and personal visits work best of all, if you happen to be traveling to Washington DC.
For those of you outside of the U.S., should all of our efforts fail, there may be a place for international cooperation in funding Arecibo. If the U.S. government doesn't want it, maybe the E.U. does. We'll let you know how it goes.
Maybe if all your efforts fail, then all the Canadian users on SETI@Home could write to the Canadian Space Agency to pick up the budget of Arecebo. I am sure that this would fit in with its mandate of space exporation. Just a thought.
http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/forum_th ... p?id=42353
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