Worthy Cause, Unworthy Claim


From today’s Space Daily:

Cornell And NAIC Search For Funding To Keep Arecibo Radar Alive

Last November, the Senior Review, an advisory committee to the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences, recommended that Arecibo’s total funding from that division be scaled back by 25 percent over the next three years. These cuts only allow operation of the planetary radar to continue into 2008; if the NAIC cannot find outside partners to cover half of the observatory’s total operating costs by 2011, the telescope risks being shut down entirely.

Personally, this Cynic thinks that Arecibo is both an extremely valuable tool for astronomical research and a really cool backdrop for a James Bond flick (and yes, Jodie Foster certainly looked good there, too…). Frankly, $1m is not a lot of money in the vast budgets of NASA and the NSF – and Arecibo should certainly be permitted to get corporate sponsors (imagine the logos you could get on THAT dish) if such $ were available.

What did bother me in the article, though, were these two disingenuous comments:

But since the Arecibo radar system may lose all its funding from NSF as soon as next year, Cornell astronomer Joseph Burns quips, “Let’s hope that we find all the dangerous asteroids in the next few months.”

“Asteroid impacts are the only known natural disaster that can cause ecological disaster and mass extinction. They can be prevented, though, and it is simply irresponsible to neglect a unique warning and mitigation device like the Arecibo radar,” said Jean-Luc Margot, Cornell assistant professor of astronomy.

Now, as I said, I think Arecibo should get its full funding, without question. But linking the defunding of the radio telescope to the Armageddon scenario is just bogus. There is no way we could conceivably mitigate an asteroid on approach at this point, and I’m not sure exactly what a radio telescope will do to mitigate such an approach…. beam radio waves at it? (and yes, I’m aware that the scope is a receiver – I was being sarcastic).

If only they could have found a way to link Arecibo to the Global War on Terror (TM) – THEN they’d have the funding no questions asked. I mean, if you’re going to play the fear card, at least go with one that has funding attached to it. Duh.

4 thoughts on “Worthy Cause, Unworthy Claim

  1. I have in my possession (don’t ask how) an unauthorized copy of the screenplay for Armageddon II: Lethal Dish.

    We fade in on Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, two office-bound but still virile astronomers. They’ve verified the planet-killer’s trajectory, and now their fingers dance on the touchpads of their iPhones.

    They calculate that next month at nnnnn UT1, the earth’s rotation will bring the asteroid into the focus of Arecibo for 1.17 seconds. If a nuclear device were set off at the center of the dish…

    Their plan is ignored by the President (Fred Thompson if available… still checking this out), so they have to recruit veteran SEAL commandos Uma Thurman and Kylie Minogue to steal a North Korean (or possibly Iranian) warhead…

    The optics may be bogus, Shubber, but consider the opening weekend box-office potential and I think you’ll see the light…

  2. Big radio dishes can obtain the size and shape of asteroids which are mere points of light at optical wavelengths. So they are important for determining the mass and thus the hazard. I don’t think it is an unworthy claim.

  3. So they are important for determining the mass and thus the hazard. I don’t think it is an unworthy claim.


    thanks for your comment. If you look at what I wrote, however, you’ll see that the issue I had was not with the detecting of asteroids (certainly a worthy capability of a radio ‘scope) but the “mitigating” claim that he then tosses in for no apparent reason, other than to imply that a telescope can somehow mitigate an asteroid from impacting with Earth. Which is bogus. It may help guide OTHER assets (if we have them) to the asteroid for mitigation purposes, but it is not the mitigator, those other assets are.

  4. Arecibo can help refine the asteroids physical and orbital parameters which could assist in predicting where an asteroid could hit and what type of damage it could do. This in turn could give us more effective evacuation plans which could mitigate the damage done, specifically in terms of lives lost. It may not be the form of mitigation you’re thinking of but it could help with impact damage mitigation nonetheless.

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