US Astronomy Facing Severe Budget Cuts and Facility Closures

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Source: Universe Today


The US astronomy budget is facing unprecedented cuts with potential closures of several facilities. A new report by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences says that available funding for ground-based astronomy could undershoot projected budgets by as much as 50%. The report recommends the closure – called “divestment” in the new document — of iconic facilities such as the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and the Green Bank Radio Telescope, as well as shutting down four different telescopes at the Kitt Peak Observatory by 2017.

“Divestment from these highly successful, long-running facilities will be difficult for all of us in the astronomical community,” reads the AST Panel Review, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges. “We must, however, consider the science tradeoff between divesting existing facilities and the risk of devastating cuts to individual research grants, mid-­scale projects, and new initiatives.”

The National Science Foundation funds the majority of ground-based astronomy facilities and research in the US. Every ten years, the astronomy community puts out a “Decadal Review,” which reviews and identifies the highest priority research activities for astronomy and astrophysics in the next decade, recommending important science goals and facilities.

With the budget trouble the US has encountered since the 2010 decadal survey was released (called “New Worlds, New Horizons, (NWNH),” the money available through the NSF for astronomy is much less than hoped for. Experts say that the Fiscal Year 2012 astronomy budget is already $45 million below the NWNH model, and predictions say the gap may grow to $75 million to $100 million by 2014.

In response to these projections, the US astronomy community convened a new panel to go through NWNH to come up with a set of recommendations of how to live within the means of a smaller budget — basically what to cut and what to keep.
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