Kitt Peak budget constraints cut into scope availability

By Joseph Altman Jr.

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Kitt Peak National Observatory has decided to close one of its telescopes in an effort to redirect funds for current projects.

Caty Pilachowski, interim director of the observatory, said the resources which were used for the older telescope will be allocated to the new WIYN telescope, a 3.5-meter station that will begin observations this summer.

To keep the 50-Inch Automated Telescope running, the equivalent of four full-time staff members is required, Pilachowski said. Shutting down the telescope will allow an estimated $160,000 to $200,000 per year to be directed to the WIYN project.

"We are responsible for the (WIYN) telescope, but we're not getting an increase in staff or money to cover the basic operating costs," she said.

When the 50-Inch telescope, originally called the Remotely Controlled Telescope, was completed in 1965, it was built as a remote control telescope Pilachowski said, allowing people to make observations from a location other than at the actual telescope.

At the time, the technology involved was "ahead of its time," Pilachowski said. Now, however, the scope is "the least unique scientifically," she said. "The science done on the 50-Inch can be done on the other telescopes."

However, Dick Joyce, the telescope scientist for the now closed scope, said he thinks the closure will adversely affect research.

He said one reason why the smaller telescope is important is its wide field of view.

"It's much more efficient to have a wider view. I think there's going to be a need for that," Joyce said.

"There are telescopes compatible, but not ones that we have access to," he said. "It comes down to, when they're closing facilities, they close the smallest ones first. I don't know what is going to fill that gap."

"All science must move on; in order to do the front line things means you stop doing some of the other things you like to do," said Peter Strittmater, astronomy department head.

He said he predicts that a specialized use will be found for the telescope some time in the future.

Marcia Rieke, astronomy professor, said the closure should not have an impact on research by University of Arizona faculty.

"It will have an effect for people who use the national observatory students at small universities that don't have their own telescopes," she said.

Rieke said the 50-Inch scope closely duplicates the function of telescopes the UA has at Steward Observatory.

Tonight, scientists from the University of Massachusetts will begin evaluating the Remotely Controlled Telescope for possible use in a project that university is working on.

Pilachowski said Massachusetts is using the telescope to test prototypes for a telescope it plans to build on Mt. Hopkins and Massachusetts is paying the full cost of operating the scope during their testing.

Pilachowski said she is hopeful that other groups will be interested in using the 50-Inch telescope since she doesn't expect it to reopen for general use. Those groups would then cover the operating costs while they use the scope.

As another part of the budgeting strategy, Kitt Peak is also cutting back on support for its smaller telescopes.

Pilachowski said observers who come to use the small scopes will need to operate the scopes themselves. This may mean they will need to be at the observatory early to learn from the persons using it before them. Groups will also need to bring someone with them who knows how to operate the instruments.

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