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Spacewriter
2004-Aug-08, 06:53 PM
Has anybody read this one? I just finished it and it's an incredibly detailed look inside astronomy politics (in re: ground-based scopes) over the past 40 years.

ngc3314
2004-Aug-08, 11:53 PM
Has anybody read this one? I just finished it and it's an incredibly detailed look inside astronomy politics (in re: ground-based scopes) over the past 40 years.

Yep. Lots of sober head-shaking at the political infighting, only a bit I saw as a Kitt Peak postdoc when the national observatories were being outmaneuvered by astronomers inside and outside for who would run the next generation of big telescopes... I did take exception to the quotation from a letter by a Big Name Astronomer on what a travesty it would be for some astronomer from a small Southern University to be found getting time on a 4-meter telescope in the name of balance. I queried him about that and evidently he now has better things to do than answer email from astronomers at small southern universities (off for 7 nights of 4-meter time anyway).

I was struck over and over again by how much of the debate about how astronomical facilties should be run was encapsulated in Jesse Greenstein and Leo Goldberg. To Greenstein it was obvious that the best astronomy would be done by a small elite given full access to whatever facilities could be built, while to Goldberg it was equally obvious that there were many astronomers all over the mao whose ideas and expertise were just as worthy of support. And this argument is by no means over, even though for ground-based facilities we are approaching a de facto solution simply by virtue of how the politics have worked out.

Spacewriter
2004-Aug-09, 01:01 AM
Has anybody read this one? I just finished it and it's an incredibly detailed look inside astronomy politics (in re: ground-based scopes) over the past 40 years.

Yep. Lots of sober head-shaking at the political infighting, only a bit I saw as a Kitt Peak postdoc when the national observatories were being outmaneuvered by astronomers inside and outside for who would run the next generation of big telescopes... I did take exception to the quotation from a letter by a Big Name Astronomer on what a travesty it would be for some astronomer from a small Southern University to be found getting time on a 4-meter telescope in the name of balance. I queried him about that and evidently he now has better things to do than answer email from astronomers at small southern universities (off for 7 nights of 4-meter time anyway).

I was struck over and over again by how much of the debate about how astronomical facilties should be run was encapsulated in Jesse Greenstein and Leo Goldberg. To Greenstein it was obvious that the best astronomy would be done by a small elite given full access to whatever facilities could be built, while to Goldberg it was equally obvious that there were many astronomers all over the mao whose ideas and expertise were just as worthy of support. And this argument is by no means over, even though for ground-based facilities we are approaching a de facto solution simply by virtue of how the politics have worked out.

Actually, it would appear that things may be taking a different sort of turn with the funding of the Giant Magellan Telescope and the interesting partnership that has banded together to propose it.

I spent some time earlier this summer working with the proposal for the Thirty-Meter Telescope, proposed by yet another huge consortium of institutions, and I am amazed at the maneuverings and details that are going into these proposals. Reading this book helped fill in a lot of blanks (so to speak) for me.

Re: the politics of these things. My introduction to that was with HST, and only from the tail end of things. I joined the GHRS team in mid-1990, right about the time the spherical aberration was verified. When I sat down to write my first book about HST science, it was against the backdrop of "Hubble wars" (before the book of the same name came out). What a time that was!

ngc3314
2004-Aug-09, 02:21 PM
Has anybody read this one? I just finished it and it's an incredibly detailed look inside astronomy politics (in re: ground-based scopes) over the past 40 years.


And this argument is by no means over, even though for ground-based facilities we are approaching a de facto solution simply by virtue of how the politics have worked out.

Actually, it would appear that things may be taking a different sort of turn with the funding of the Giant Magellan Telescope and the interesting partnership that has banded together to propose it.



I may have been too elliptical trying not to aggressively ruffle feathers, but I actually meant that the notion of large public ground-based optical telescopes (such as some of us used to rely on for our research...) seems to be on its way out. As it says in the book, the US national observatories may operate telescopes as large as they like as long as their aperture is no more than 80% of what Caltech operates at the time... These consortia mark more nails in the coffin. Whether this is good or bad, as they say, Remains to be Seen. Certainly in the 1950s it did not advance astronomy (as much as might have been) to have all such telescopes in the hands of astronomers at only two institutions in the same US state, but by now the club of "haves" in these consortia has expanded enough that the outcome may differ. It is especially interesting to see completely new players like Texas A&M getting involved. (And high time for them to both hire and tenure some astronomers to use it, according to one colleague and A&M grad).

This risks veering into the dreaded "just how many research astronomers do we need, anyway?" thread.

Spacewriter
2004-Aug-09, 06:00 PM
Yeah, you're right. All things being equal, I'd rather have more astronomers than politicians though. But THAT risks getting us into politics... ;)