On August 14, 2012, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee issued a report entitled: Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade; Opportunities and Challenges. In that report, the NSF recommended that two NRAO instruments, the GBT and the Very Long Based Array (VLBA) in New Mexico, be fully divested from the NSF Astronomy Division’s research facilities portfolio within five years.
At over sixteen million pounds and a construction cost of $95 million, the Green Bank Telescope, as it is known, is the largest, most capable fully steerable single dish radio telescope in the World. It is able to precisely point its 2.3 acres of light-collecting surface area anywhere within all but the southernmost 15 percent of the celestial sphere. An engineering and scientific marvel, it is unlikely to be recreated, much less surpassed, by American astronomy for decades to come.
Both the GBT and the VLBA are state-of-the-art facilities and have crucial capabilities that cannot be matched by other facilities. Each provides unparalleled scientific access to the universe. Together, these instruments provide the highest sensitivity and resolution available from any astronomical instrument in the world.
THE PORTFOLIO REVIEW PROCESS
While the Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), and NRAO believe effective planning is important to success of the U.S. astronomy and astrophysics program, given the multi-federal agency nature involvement it is essential that existing critical national scientific assets be included when evaluating the total investments made in optical, radio, and solar astronomy.
In an era of constant cost reductions, it just makes sense to utilize already existing world-class facilities to maximize the benefit to science and taxpayers while enabling future advances in radio astronomy. The GBT and VLBA comprise the best ground-based telescopes of their kind and are extremely cost-effective. These facilities have multiple state and federal users and stakeholders who rely upon them.
The AUI and NRAO believe that any programmatic and budgetary recommendations made by NSF should:
Ensure that students have ready access to training and instrumentation opportunities at world-class, U.S.-based facilities
Provide a strong and broadly-based U.S. program that complements and reinforces our shared-access international facilities
Preserve unique and irreplaceable national research infrastructure that maintains U.S. leadership in optical, radio, and solar astrophysics.
None of these goals will be advanced by removing the GBT and VLBA from the portfolio of telescopes funded via the NSF; indeed, they will be hindered.
AUI and NRAO encourage the NSF to work with its other federal agency counterparts to consider a more balanced approach with additional funding scenarios for the entire U.S. federal astronomy portfolio.
Wednesday October 3, 2012
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