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So, Arecibo needs money.  Not a lot of money.  More than I have.  But not a lot of money, as such things go.

Yes, the National Science Foundation has told the folks who run the Arecibo Observatory that they need to come up with outside funding to the tune of half their annual budget, or they will be shut down.  How much is this? $4 million.  From the news report:

But among astronomers, Arecibo is an icon of hard science. Its instruments have netted a decades-long string of discoveries about the structure and evolution of the universe. Its high-powered radar has mapped in exquisite detail the surfaces and interiors of neighboring planets.

And it is the only facility on the planet able to track asteroids with enough precision to tell which ones might plow into Earth -- a disaster that could cause as many as a billion deaths and that experts say is preventable with enough warning.

Yet, for want of a few million dollars, the future for Arecibo appears grim.

The National Science Foundation, which has long funded the dish, has told the Cornell University-operated facility that it will have to close if it cannot find outside sources for half of its already reduced $8 million budget in the next three years -- an ultimatum that has sent ripples of despair through the scientific community.

Hey, I understand how it is.  The cost of gas is up.  Economy is looking a little rocky.  There's a lot of competition for science funding.  Things are tight all over.

Well, maybe not all over.  See, that $4 million - that amounts to about 20 minutes worth of what we're spending in Iraq, according to the National Priorities Project.

So, I know it's a tough choice - maintaining the worlds foremost radio telescope for a year or pouring more money into the pocket of KBR for 20 minutes - but I think perhaps we should consider this problem carefully.  I mean, we can continue to use a proven facility which can track near-Earth objects that threaten the lives of billions, or we can fund a pointless, hopeless, and futile war for another 1200 seconds.

Yeah, that's a real tough choice.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.  Cross posted to my blog.)

Originally posted to Shadan7 on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 08:09 PM PDT.

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