I would like to respond to Jennifer Herweg's letter (Sept. 7), "Astronomy student questions scope site." Miss Herweg's opinion, while commendable in sentiment, demonstrates an unfortunate common lack of factual information about the Mt. Graham project and the UA's Department of Astronomy.
I am a recent graduate of the undergraduate astronomy program. Although I do not intend to seek a degree in astronomy, I still strongly support the construction of the Large Binocular Telescope. The purpose of building the LBT, I believe, is to help push back the borders of our ignorance of the universe. I feel this to be a worthy goal. As an astronomy student herself, I would expect that maybe Miss Herweg would agree.
At what price should this knowledge be purchased? When the facts are examined, the price would appear to be small indeed, at least for the red squirrels. The area where the scope is to be constructed is devoid of active red squirrel middens. The nearest active midden is nearly 100 meters from the site. The construction of the two scopes already present seemed to have no measurable impact on the squirrel population, judging from a recent census. Also, due to the research nature of the site, visitors (this includes campers, hikers, and even astronomers) would be prohibited. Only observatory staff, astronomers there to use the telescopes, and perhaps the odd dignitary or two would be allowed to enter the site. It's not as if the squirrels would be in danger of death by trampling from roving hikers, campers, or even loggers.
With no real danger to the squirrels, I am left questioning the motives of the observatory opponents. It would appear that the motive of these so-called "environmentalists" is at least as much the avenging of bruised egos as concern for the environment. It is hard to believe otherwise when the telescope opponents would pursue legal action that could ultimately weaken the Endangered Species Act.
The opposition would like people to believe that the Astronomy Department is filled with liars and anti-environmental troglodytes. I'd like to point out that they would have little to gain by lying. This site is the best in southern Arizona. Astronomers also tend to be much more environmentally concerned than most people. They, more than anyone, realize how significant, and how amazingly lucky, we are to be here.
Non-Degree Graduate Student
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