Monday, April 28, 2008

Clinton Pays for Good Science - Saves Arecibo

Hilary Clinton has stepped into the fray over the funding of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico by proposing a bill that will secure dollars for the facility. Currently it is funded by the National Science Foundation and they have announced that the will cut most of its budget by 2011. A spokesperson at NSF said that the observatory does “good and unique science”, surely this alone would be grounds to continue with the funding. People in favour of the facility have noted that the Bush administration are looking at doubling the NSF’s budget within the next 10 years. Amazing.

I know that the decision by Clinton is more than likely a political driven stunt due to the ongoing Democratic Presidential bid but I welcome the news and hope that the telescope at Arecibo has along and fruitful life. You never know, it may still receive a reply to the message that was beamed from there in 1974 (more below).

Facts about Arecibo:
1968, the discovery of the periodicity of the Crab Pulsar
1974 Hulse and Taylor discovered the first binary pulsar PSR B1913+16, for which they were later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics
1982, the first millisecond pulsar, PSR J1937+21, was discovered by Don Backer, Shri Kulkarni and others
1989, the observatory directly imaged an asteroid for the first time in history: asteroid 4769 Castalia
1990, the first extra-solar planets ever discovered.
2008, detection of prebiotic molecules methanimine and hydrogen cyanide in the distant starburst galaxy

The telescope also had military intelligence uses, for example locating Soviet radar installations by detecting their signals bouncing back off the Moon. Arecibo is also the source of data for the SETI@home project

In 1974, the Arecibo message, an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life, was transmitted from the radio telescope toward the globular cluster M13, about 25,000 light-years away. The 1,679 bit pattern of 1s and 0s defined a 23 by 73 pixel bitmap image that included numbers, stick figures, chemical formulas, and a crude image of the telescope itself.

It has also featured in the James Bond film Goldeneye as the Villains hideout and it played itself in the film Contact about a message from outer space.

The desire to expand the knowledge of the universe needs places like Arecibo to continue the work now and in the future.

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