This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

20 November 2007

NYTimes Article on Arecibo: "A Hazy Future for a ‘Jewel’ of Space Instruments"

From the article...

With a quarter of its annual budget slashed, to $8 million from $10.5 million, Arecibo will be listening to the universe less often in the coming years. For researchers like Dr. Lovell, a professor of astronomy at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, that may mean her work — detecting radio waves emitted by ions from busted-up water molecules — will take years longer to complete.

More alarming would be the closing of Arecibo in four years, a possibility that has been raised by the National Science Foundation, which pays for the operation of the telescope.

In an era of tight and tightening budgets, a review panel for the foundation’s astronomy division two years ago looked for places where money could be freed up for new facilities. It recommended a 25 percent cut in Arecibo’s foundation financing by 2011 and then another 50 percent cut, to $4 million, in 2011.

The panel said Arecibo should look to other institutions and agencies to make up for the 2011 cut; if it could not find the money, the panel said, the foundation should consider closing it.

A quarter of its staff was laid off last year. The telescope is now on hiatus for repainting, but when it resumes operation, the number of observing hours will be cut, and nearly half of its receivers will be furloughed. Its emphasis will shift to large, continuing surveys, and smaller projects like Dr. Lovell’s may be much more squeezed than in the past.

An outcry followed the review panel’s decision, particularly from planetary scientists who thought that the group had overlooked Arecibo’s role in cataloging potential dangers from asteroids. Its radar can precisely plot the orbit of an asteroid to determine if it could be on course for a collision with Earth.

Two weeks ago, scientists and officials testified before a Congressional committee about the asteroid issue and touched on Arecibo’s fate. “The planetary science community is in danger of losing one of its instrumental crown jewels,” Donald K. Yeomans, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

NASA is a candidate to pick up some of the financing, particularly the $1 million to $2 million annual cost of the planetary radar. The agency has contributed to the radar operations in the past, as much as $500,000, but NASA officials say their focus should be on instruments in space, not on the ground.

"A Hazy Future for a ‘Jewel’ of Space Instruments"
Kenneth Chang
New York Times
20 November 2007

Link: Article

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