A panel put together by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) suggests that the federal agency should close two major radio telescopes, if it wants to push forward with more ambitious projects, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).
The recommendation is aimed at the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and the Green Bank Telescope, in Green Bank, West Virginia. Both of these assets are efficient platforms for conducting radio astronomy, but should be closed within 5 years, the panel says.
Members say that ground-based astronomy budgets at NSF are dwindling, and that a doubling of the agency's income – which was stipulated by authorities in 2010 – is unlikely to occur over the next decade. Under the previous scenario, the LSST could be built without sacrificing existing telescopes.
The advisory panel had to investigate the steps that the NSF must take in order to ensure that new facilities would be constructed. Its job was to refine and modify the recommendations made by the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, which was “overly-optimistic.”
In the paper, released on August 16, the panel also recommends that the NSF cut funding to the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope, the 4-meter Mayall Telescope, another 2.1 meter telescope, and the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, all of them on Kitt Peak, near Tucson, Arizona.
The GBT is the world's largest, steerable, single-dish radio telescope. The Arecibo Observatory, in Puerto Rico, is larger, but pointing it requires the entire planet to spin. The facility occupies the bottom of a volcanic lake.
The VLBA is one of the world's largest interferometry radio observatories. It consists of 10 radio antennas that span a distance of 8,500 kilometers (~5,280 miles). They are tied together in a way that allows them to behave as if they were a single dish with the aforementioned diameter.
“These were very painful recommendations for us to make,” Harvard University astronomer and panel chair, Daniel Eisenstein, says. However, he adds, the NSF must take “decisive action right away.”
In 2010, the NSF was convinced its astronomy budget would increase from $240 million to nearly $500 million, by 2020. Back then, financial prospects were a lot brighter than they are today.
If all Kitt Peak telescopes, the VLBA and the GBT are closed, then the NSF could begin constructing the $665 million LSST in 2013, Science Insider
The cuts would also enable the agency to continue its involvement in building and operating the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).