Clinton introduces bill to fund Arecibo

Clinton introduces bill to fund Arecibo

Clinton introduces bill to fund Arecibo

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 25 2008 3:00 PM

Clinton introduces bill to fund Arecibo

The Arecibo radio telescope is the single biggest telescope in the world. It has been used for decades to further our understanding of the Universe, so of course its funding is threatened.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

However, Senator Hillary Clinton has introduced a bill to get much-needed money for the telescope's operation. Since Cornell (which is in New York) operates the observatory, this isn't totally altruistic of her, but still. Her official statement hits all the right marks.

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I'm not thrilled that this is an earmark, because that forces money to go certain places and takes discretion out of the hands of the people who get the money (in this case, the Nation Science Foundation). However, in this case, the NSF has made the wrong decision, choosing to cut funding for this much-needed observatory. Besides all the science it does, it also can be used to get accurate orbits for near-Earth asteroids (by pinging them with radar), which is an obviously important function.

I asked my friend, astronomer Seth Shostak -- an advocate of the 'scope -- what he thinks on this, and here's his reply:

It's great that the legislature has noted the threat to Arecibo. This is one of radio astronomy's most useful instruments -- it's used to study pulsars, galaxies, asteroids and for SETI, as well as for other research. This antenna simply has no peer. There's no other instrument where you can wield 18 acres of metal mesh to catch the faintest radio static from the cosmos. Admittedly, it's regrettable that this effort to save Arecibo involves earmarks. It would be better if American science policy was pursued in less ad hoc ways. But one shouldn't let the idealistic wish for perfection interfere with a practical result that's good. I hope that this gets passed, and that Arecibo continues to scan the skies.

Mind you, this bill has only been introduced, not voted on. A similar bill stalled earlier, so I urge you to contact your Reps and let them know what you think. Action for Space has the details.