"Save Lick Observatory" campaign

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
Bikeman (Heinz-...
Moderator
Joined: 28 Aug 06
Posts: 3,515
Credit: 409,549,757
RAC: 75,005
Topic 197710

I'm just back from the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration (LVC) meeting at Stanford University (near Palo Alto in the "Silicon Valley"). I was lucky to catch one of the slots available for a tour to Lick Observatory during my stay.

Lick Observatory's history goes back to the end of the 19th century when it was quite fashionable for the newly-super-rich to make themselves immortal by donating to big astronomy projects. Many of the big observatories, telescopes and even things like surveys of that time were funded by railroad tycoons, steel magnates etc.

James Lick ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lick ) was one of the richest people in the USA at the time when he could be convinced to donate a huge amount of money to build the Lick Observatory (instead of building the largest pyramid on Earth and other ideas that first came to his somewhat eccentric mind...). Today you can still admire the giant 36 inch refracting telescope

which, with its semi-manual controls done in the style of the 1880s, looks impressive in more than one way. We even got to look thru it at the center of star cluster M13. Yeah, they use a 6" telescope like the one I have at home too...as a finder scope :-) .

But the Lick observatory is not a museum for historic astronomy gear, it is a fully operational modern observatory which helped to pioneer innovations like exo-planet searches and the use of adaptive optics with artificial laser guide stars to overcome the limitations of observing the sky from Earth thru the wobbling atmosphere. We also were able to visit the dome of the 3m Shane telescope

(for comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope has an aperture of less than 2.5 m).

The tour we got at the site was really awesome, with lots of interesting stuff to learn about James Lick (who is actually entombed under the 36" !!), the history of the site and its current instruments and research. I highly recommend a tour to all astronomy lovers who are visiting that area.

You should go there...as long as you still have a chance to do so: It was all the more shocking for me to learn that the site is actually endangered because funding for it might dry up in the near future. Even tho astronomers working at the observatory continue to be productive, the current plan is to ramp down funding to zero by 2018.

There is a "Save Lick Observatory" website that explains the mission of the observatory and the effort to find a new funding source (or sources).
http://www.ucolick.org/SaveLick/index.html

Clear Skies
HB


images: Wikipedia

archae86
archae86
Joined: 6 Dec 05
Posts: 2,560
Credit: 1,861,965,046
RAC: 2,580,814

"Save Lick Observatory" campaign

As it happens, I have been there. I lived in Santa Clara or Sunnyvale from 1974 through 1988, and drove to the summit of Mt. Hamilton (which bears the Lick Observatory buildings) a dozen or more times for various reasons.

The road up is a fair bit twisty, as I think it still follows a late 19th century alignment.

Once I drove only partway up, as a means to show my young daughters snow for the first time in their lives.

Another time I drove with colleagues a a little way on past the summit to find a dark spot to set up my boss's 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and take a look at Halley's comet (I think we looked at a nice globular cluster through his telescope, naked eye and binoculars were better suited to Halley's, but the seeing up there was way better than in the valley).

A nearly disastrous time I chose to drive over the summit as a (very) long way to travel to our factory in Livermore on roads exercising my week-old BMW 325i. A descending curve on the unpaved road descending the east side from the Mt. Hamilton summit nearly did for me. The anti-lock brakes activated, and not knowing the sensation (first time in my life) I momentarily lifted the brake pedal. That is the wrong way to drive ABS, and I used up some of a not very fat margin in negotiating the turn.

Back to science.

A fundamental Lick problem is inferior seeing. Mt. Hamilton is not very high, and not very far away from a vast urban light pollution commonly known as Silicon Valley. In an era when optical telescope investment seems increasingly to go to just three places, the Altacama desert, Mauna Kea, and outer space (OK, I guess I should say four and include the Canary Islands), it is hard to justify investment at a location with such inferior inherent observations properties. And without investment it is hard to justify sustaining the overhead to keep the place operating.

tbret
tbret
Joined: 12 Mar 05
Posts: 2,114
Credit: 3,607,038,515
RAC: 1,595,980

RE: And without

Quote:
And without investment it is hard to justify sustaining the overhead to keep the place operating.

I operate on a shoestring budget all of the time, so the numbers that are tossed around always floor me.

1.3 million dollars annually to keep a telescope that's already there, already paid-for, etc, "in operation" blows what little is left of my mind.

Maybe they need to hire a different lawn service or stop redecorating every six months.

I'm willing to bet there are a lot of expenses in there that don't fall under the heading of "necessary."

Mike Hewson
Mike Hewson
Moderator
Joined: 1 Dec 05
Posts: 6,013
Credit: 86,676,263
RAC: 234,099

Hmmm ... an obvious ploy is

Hmmm ... an obvious ploy is to sell ( online ) observing time to the public. Lick may be at the low end of today's high tech garage but there could well be types like myself who would love to do amateur astronomy only for local circumstances ( clear sky opportunity and high local horizon ) constraining. The natural tension here, as a business model, is to partition the 'outside cash' time vs in-house work needs to suit.

I'll follow the links and slip this idea under the door.

[ I've always fancied myself doing hi-res Moon feature mapping and then roll my own image analysis procedure to deduce the terrain heights from shadow pattern variations with orbital phase. I know this has already been done & dusted, but it's a relatively low-tech/high-brain task. Do I hear the phrase 'Fourier Transform' ? ..... :-) ]

Cheers, Mike.

( edit ) Now what would I personally really be prepared to pay for that Moon idea ? I reckon, say for electronic delivery ( TIFF's, filters x 3 of my choice ) of ten clear ~ zenith shots each two nights apart. Probably $1K AUD ? Hmmm ? :-)

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

MAGIC Quantum Mechanic
MAGIC Quantum M...
Joined: 18 Jan 05
Posts: 1,246
Credit: 370,026,364
RAC: 78,373

Yes I wouldn't mind helping

Yes I wouldn't mind helping them there either Mike and I could drive down the coast so it won't be by plane or ship!

I just came in from staring up in the night sky with just my eyes in fact

And they haven't worked better after doing that over 50 years.

So give me the keys and I will let you in when you get there Mike.

(edit: but then I wouldn't mind taking a ride on the future Webb Space Telescope either)

 

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
Bikeman (Heinz-...
Moderator
Joined: 28 Aug 06
Posts: 3,515
Credit: 409,549,757
RAC: 75,005

As for light pollution: it

As for light pollution: it helps a lot that communities in the area have agreed to use a special form of street illumination that emits light in only a rather narrow band of the spectrum, so that this light can be filtered out for broadband observations and doesn't interfere at all with narrow-band observations. Other observatories on the west coast like Palomar and Mt. Wilson face (and manage) similar challenges.

I think a real concern (all of this is just my personal view) is that if all of the money goes to the super-big telescopes, it's good news for the top-notch science but bad news for the group of junior researchers who need telescope time on 3m-class instruments to pursue their astronomy projects. I could imagine it's not so easy to get telescope time on one of the few 10m+ or space instruments unless you have already established a reputation or have a good sponsor/adviser, because the competition for telescope time on those huge instruments must be fierce. I would think you need a mix of instruments with only a few super-telescopes and a much wider base of medium-sized instruments to mirror the academic "population".

Exo-planet research is a nice example. At the time when the first exo-planet orbiting a main-sequence star was discovered [1] [with a 2m telescope, confirmed by Lick's 3m instrument], the field was a bit of a fringe discipline (not quite as bad as SETI, but close), as many astronomers doubted it could ever work at all or yield interesting results[2]. Now it is at the mainstream of astronomy, but back then you had a *very* hard time convincing the committees in charge of the big telescopes to give you extensive telescope time for such a speculative effort.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/51_Pegasi
[2] http://astro.berkeley.edu/~gmarcy/Autobiography_marcy.pdf

tullio
tullio
Joined: 22 Jan 05
Posts: 1,994
Credit: 31,054,089
RAC: 3,667

I am afraid that the Square

I am afraid that the Square Kilometer Array will put many smaller radiotelescope in danger, not only for the money it will cost but also for the huge number of astronomers, technicians and computer scientists needed by it.
Tullio

Mike Hewson
Mike Hewson
Moderator
Joined: 1 Dec 05
Posts: 6,013
Credit: 86,676,263
RAC: 234,099

By purchasing time online I

By purchasing time online I meant contracting out the existing staff & infrastructure at Lick to take the shots ( to agreed specs and price ) on your behalf and deliver the data load electronically. There are already alot of rather smaller efforts out there doing exactly that, though I am unsure where Lick would lie in that 'market' though. The Lick name and reputation could help a good deal there.

I could get Magic to drop by for me to see if they are up to speed on my bleeding edge project! :-)

I'm not sure how it works in the astronomy trade - as a professional craft group - is there an expectation of skills progression through various grades of activity ? Does one issue a 'Certificate of Proficiency for Medium Size Telescope' etc, that sort of thing ? Maybe there would be a chargeable market there, akin to advanced driver training courses. Directly teach the art and science of observing with hands on the components, there could be a huge untapped public market for that.

Sell knowledge. Sell photon capture events.

Cheers, Mike.

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

tbret
tbret
Joined: 12 Mar 05
Posts: 2,114
Credit: 3,607,038,515
RAC: 1,595,980

RE: Sell knowledge. Sell

Quote:

Sell knowledge. Sell photon capture events.

I still want to see the budget.

Maybe we ought to just buy the thing outright! I wonder if a bid on it, say, $100,000.00 U.S. would bring-out the roars of "It's worth more than that!"

To which you could reply, "Apparently not. You are going to close it. I'm about to save you $1.3 million per year. Here's my check, or would you prefer a money order? Oh, and I'm sure we can work-out a suitable financial arrangement for students to come use my telescope."

If somebody here knows how to operate the telescope, I'll run the @#$@ weed-eater around the place. We could probably let the students "dust" in exchange for observation time.

Is it hard to keep beer cold there?

EDIT: I still think a $1.3 million annual budget means someone's making-out like a bandit.

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
Bikeman (Heinz-...
Moderator
Joined: 28 Aug 06
Posts: 3,515
Credit: 409,549,757
RAC: 75,005

Here is a recent in-depth

Here is a recent in-depth news article explaining the situation:

http://www.dailycal.org/2014/09/02/facing-waning-future/

Note also the comment posted by the well known astronomer Alex Filippenko .

Mike Hewson
Mike Hewson
Moderator
Joined: 1 Dec 05
Posts: 6,013
Credit: 86,676,263
RAC: 234,099

RE: I'm not sure how it

Quote:
I'm not sure how it works in the astronomy trade - as a professional craft group - is there an expectation of skills progression through various grades of activity ? Does one issue a 'Certificate of Proficiency for Medium Size Telescope' etc, that sort of thing ?


As HB's article indicates they are already doing this.

It seems to a typical stoush b/w those that do versus those that count beans. Assuming the reporting is accurate this devolves to the standard admin response in tight times - keep you own job and cut the workers. Also clearly seen is the ( again routine ) trick of cutting funding, waiting, and then demonstrate diminished output which then justifies the next cuts. To wit :

Quote:
The Office of the President has reiterated that it “does not plan to close Lick at this time.†Rather, it is looking to “develop and implement a funding model that will shift Lick’s operations to alternative fund sources.â€


... classic forked tongue. The comparison with bleeding edge equipment is a blatant makeshift non-issue, as the utility of Lick for it's purpose is independent of other facilities for theirs. Evidently the decision was hoped to slide without much stir, fat chance obviously, and now 'it was the other guy' once the cry was raised. The admin's risk here is that heightened awareness - including budget inspection - might lead to other alternative cost strategies equally effective ie. dead wood trimming in management instead. Thus best to have every one else on the back foot from the get-go in that instance, so preempt and in the rebound go victim cloth.

{ While being aware of analogy failure, I see an excellent correspondence arising here as with health service provision. These scenarios are all too classic in my anecdotal experience. }

Cheers, Mike.

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.