Monday, June 11, 2007

update on the Arecibo Observatory

(This is a follow-on on my previous post at
In a management review meeting in March, NSF/AST increased its projected FY'11 funding level to $5M. That, coupled with a projected $2.5M from NSF/ATM would bring the base funding to $7.5M, a 38% cut, but a level at which Arecibo believes it can still operate and succeed in getting additional funding. For this reason, the observatory director, Dr. Robert Kerr, sees closure as "off the table".

That said, there has been a flurry of activity in the last month. In early May the NSF/AST Director for Astronomy, Dr. Wayne Van Citters, requested a Town Meeting to be held in the town of Arecibo. The purpose of this meeting is for Dr. Van Citters to learn of the importance of Arecibo to Puerto Rico. It will be held at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo Campus Auditorium at 10 AM on June 26, 2007.

Following the Town Meeting, there will be a staff meeting at the Arecibo Observatory to give Observatory staff the opportunity to hold a discussion with Dr. Van Citters.

On June 27 Dr. Van Citters will sit down with prominent members of the Puerto Rican community to discuss paths to future operations of the Arecibo Observatory. Attending this meeting will be government officials, university officials, members of the business community, representatives of local foundations, and others. It will be held at the Bankers Club in Hato Rey at 2 PM.

At the same time as this very positive development, there are some not-so-positive movements. In my previous post I wrote:
Lack of clear and unequivocal support works directly against any fundraising
efforts. No-one wants to pour $ into a sinking ship.
Coincident with planning for the Town Meeting the NSF notified the observatory to expect the visit of a number of engineers who will evaluate the decommissioning (read "destruction") of the observatory. So, at the same time they send a positive message by meeting with people here in Puerto Rico to find a way into the future, they send us a message of doom by investing over $0.5M to evaluate something they have no right to do. Not only did the NSF astronomy division take this wrong-headed decision, but they did it without informing the other major interest in Arecibo at the NSF, the upper atmospheric sciences program.

The Arecibo Observatory hopes that NSF/AST will reconsider this decision and cancel the visit to Puerto Rico of this team of engineers. It is very possible that such a visit will be met without the traditional warm welcome Puerto Rico gives its visitors.

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