Friday, December 8, 2006

Famous Telescope Threatened

Future Dimming for Puerto Rico Telescope

The Arecibo Radio Telescope, which featured prominently in the Film Contact (based on the novel writen by Carl Sagan), and starring Jodie Foster as an astronomer, is facing crippling budget cutbacks.

"The whole world loses if funding is lost for Arecibo," said Lance Benner, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He uses the telescope to track near-earth asteroids. "We're a very inexpensive form of insurance for the whole planet." The telescope is so prized that astronomers let out a collective shudder in November when a review panel recommended the U.S. cut 25 percent of the observatory's $10.5 million astronomy budget next year and consider eliminating it entirely at the end of the decade. The panel suggested that the private sector or overseas institutions could pay part of Arecibo's costs..."

One plot element in the film concerned the actions of a crazed xtian fundamentalist who tries to sabotage our first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials. Once again, reality imitates art: Arecibo is engaged in SETI! Hopefully, with the new line-up in the US House and Senate, the funding of this beautiful telescope will be restored.

Interested in actually helping in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? And have some spare computer power to donate? Check out SETI@Home, and soon you'll be joining others across the world in this remarkable quest.

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