Thursday, November 3, 2011

Kitt Peak National Observatory Under Fire

The October issue of NOAO Currents points to some serious funding projections to astronomy that may lead to the closure of Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO).

For those unfamiliar, KPNO is a world-class astronomical research facility. While it is not home to the truly giant telescopes of our era, it is a workhorse of modern astronomy. It has numerous telescopes including the 3.5-meter WIYN and the 4-meter Mayall.  Work done there increases our basic understanding of the universe, supports the education of young astronomers, advances technology and, through its wonderful public outreach programs, helps to inspire and educate our youth.

Closing this important facility would not only be a major blow to astronomy in the United States, but it would also be a huge drain on the economy of Arizona. A 2008 report found that astronomy has an annual $250 million economic impact for Arizona. Closing KPNO and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) headquarters in Tucson would remove many high paying jobs from this clean industry and also draw away important tourism dollars that the observatory and its outreach programs bring to the state.

It is a shame that cutting budgets and lowering taxes seems to be the only priority of our elected officials. They show a profound lack of understanding of how basic scientific research makes America stronger and more competitive on the world stage.

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