US Radio Telescopes Victims of Government Shutdown

US Radio telescopes are victims of government shutdown
US Radio telescopes start to go dark, in the wake of the enduring government shutdown

The United States government, after congress failed to strike an accord on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, shutdown on Oct. 1. The end result could be catastrophic for a number of federal agencies, including government-funded bodies involved in scientific research.

Scientific Institutions Go Dark

A number of scientists have been furloughed and informed not to attend their place of work, whilst many laboratories and offices remain either out of action, or are currently being run by a skeleton staff. A number of government websites, meanwhile, remain shutdown and are not being updated; this includes NASA, whose website and television services have gone dark.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are no longer involved in processing grants, and a number of important research initiatives currently hang in the balance.

As a result of the government shutdown, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has shuttered all of its facilities, situated across North America. These include the following telescopes:

  • Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia
  • Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro, New Mexico
  • Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in Socorro, New Mexico

When the shutdown had initially commenced, the NRAO had approximately one week’s worth of funding available, which was surplus from the previous fiscal year, to temporarily continue with its operations.

Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia
Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia is one of the victims of the political infighting, raging on Capitol Hill

According to a Nature news blog, a small crew of security staff will remain in place near the antennas to safeguard the premises. Alas, most of the other employees, from the 475-strong team working for the NRAO, have now been placed on furlough. The facility will be minimally powered, and receivers will be monitored to ensure they remain cryogenically cooled; if the receivers were allowed to heat up, and then had to be cooled down at a later date, in the event that operations were to resume, this would be more costly.

Thousands of astronomers utilized the data from the afore-mentioned telescopes to perform important research studies, in attempting to explore a great many cosmological mysteries. As a result, the government shutdown is responsible for stalling a number of these scientific research endeavors.

Is ALMA Next?

Anthony Beasley, the director of the NRAO, indicates that the closure of the organization’s numerous facilities could be a short-term issue, and states that operations could be restarted within two to three days, after the showdown on Capitol Hill ends. However, speaking to ScienceInsider, Beasley states that shutting down these highly advanced telescopes is not “… as easy as flicking a switch.”

ALMA only has one month of funding left from the NRAO
The NRAO has enough funds to sustain operations of ALMA for another month. But, will it be enough?

Meanwhile, the NRAO has around one month’s worth of funding for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), based in Chile. ALMA is a radio telescope array, offering five times the resolution of Hubble, and had recently captured stunning images of a star emerging to life (Herbig-Haro 46/47), as large plumes of gas streamed through the empty void of space. Ultimately, however, even this telescope remains unsafe.

As the government shutdown enters its fifth day of enforcement, following the fiscal budget stalemate, North America’s infrastructure and economy remains precarious. Citizens are no longer able to take advantage of a number of services, and operation of national parks, monuments, museums and call centers have been halted. In addition according to, the U.S. government’s web portal, Education, pensions and veteran compensation, alongside a host of other benefits, could be slashed in the event the government shutdown endures for a protracted period.

As the shutdown rolls on, unabated, more highly-respected scientific institutions face considerable financial difficulties, during a period when harsh government cutbacks are already biting. Let us hope the political wrangling subsides, so further casualties are not witnessed.

By: James Fenner

Nature News Blog Link

ScienceInsider News Link

Discovery News Link Shutdown Information Link

LV Guardian Express Link1

LV Guardian Express Link2

LV Guardian Express Link3

14 Responses to "US Radio Telescopes Victims of Government Shutdown"

  1. Toya   October 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    The Demorats HAVE got to GO!

  2. Michael   October 6, 2013 at 2:09 am

    Lets not forget the fact that they’re also used for early detection of large objects like asteroids as well.Yea we don’t need those big wastes of money with those geek scientist riding the govt welfare program for academics ! Thats how some of those morons view programs like this.Those flat earthers cant pay attention past they’re belly button enough to comprehend just how serious turning off systems like this could be.The Earth had a close shave with an asteroid over Russia last spring plus a couple more not mentioned by the mainstream media over the US and other nations within 24 hours after DA 14 and the one that blew apart over Russia skies and now were just going to shut systems like this down and keep soldiers fighting foreign wars for poppy plants or oil fields ????? OR how about cutting funds to worthless arrogant children that we the fools voted into power and get those scientist back to work so that they might help save this nation .This isn’t just about black holes or star birth,they do other work besides this which clearly wasn’t mentioned.If the Guardian wanted to make this a major story they should have researched what these scientist do that benefit us all instead of the pure research they also do.

  3. Buzz Word   October 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    When you have a large faction of congressmen who literally believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, expect the ignorant to put the brakes on American scientific research. This is a lesson for all intelligent Americans: never put a Republican into office. Never, never, never! The Republicans have got to go!

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