Kitt Peak Observatory could face funding cuts

August 17, 2012

Funding could be cut for three telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson. It could mean the loss of 70 jobs. KJZZ’s Al Macias reports the recommendations are part of the long-term budget plans for National Science Foundation.

Kitt Peak sunsetA view of the sunset and rain clouds from the Kitt Peak Observatory live web cam, taken in 2004 (Photo courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF)

AL MACIAS: There are more than two dozen telescopes at Kitt Peak. The money to operate three of them comes from the National Science Foundation. NSF’s Daniel Eisenstein says the agency is trying to manage many needs.

DANIEL EISENSTEIN: We have to look forward to the future of astronomy and with the large new facilities being built and with the importance of the grant programs with the constraints of a new budget, something has to be displaced.

MACIAS: Dr. James Ulvestad with NSF says the University of Arizona will still play a role in one of the new telescopes planned in northern Chile. He says this is the model for modern astronomy.

JAMES ULVESTAD: The mirrors for that telescope are being built in the mirror lab in Tucson. Astronomy is moving away from the image of the lone astronomer sitting at the telescope on top of a mountain and is moving toward providing big data sets that are reduced at their home institution.

MACIAS: Ulvestad says these recommendations must be approved by the NSF, the president and Congress. If approved the cuts would take place in 2016. Meanwhile, he says the agency is working to find other government agencies that might supplement the funding.