I’ve just been reading this Wash Post story about the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is apparently the largest and most sensitive radio telescope on Earth:
..among astronomers, Arecibo is an icon of hard science. Its instruments have netted a decades-long string of discoveries about the structure and evolution of the universe. Its high-powered radar has mapped in exquisite detail the surfaces and interiors of neighboring planets.
And it is the only site on the planet able to track asteroids with enough precision to tell which ones might plow into Earth - a disaster that could cause as many as a billion deaths and that experts say is preventable with enough warning.
This is the observatory featured in the movie Contact. If you read the whole article, it describes more of the real science performed there. Unfortunately it faces closure due to a funding shortfall.
The National Science Foundation, which has long funded the dish, has told the Cornell University-operated facility that it will have to close if it cannot find outside sources for half of its already reduced $8 million budget in the next three years - an ultimatum that has sent ripples of despair through the scientific community.
It seems a shame that the only observatory able to warn us of a disastrous asteroid impact (not to mention all the other science it performs), may have to close for the want of only $4 million (that’s million with an “M”). They are looking for other funding, so I’m hopeful it will stay operational.
In other news, federal money given to religious groups is in excess of $2 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) annually. Phew - that’s a relief. Because I’d be concerned if money that could be spent on science was instead being wasted on pointless superstitious nonsense unrelated to anything happening in the real world.