NSF To Make Decision on Observatories This Year

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) plans to make a decision by the end of this year on the future of several ground-based observatories that a report recommended should be handed over to other organizations or closed, an agency officials said Jan. 7.

James Ulvestad, director of the NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, said at an NSF town hall meeting held during the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif., that the NSF is still reviewing a “portfolio review” completed in August. That report recommended that the NSF divest itself of several existing observatories in response to budgets for the division that could be as much as 20 percent below its 2012 level of $234.5 million in the next decade.

“No decisions have been made by NSF to date” on the report’s recommendations, Ulvestad said. A decision should be made by the end of the 2013 in order to complete the process of either handing the observatories over to other organizations or shutting them down by 2017, the goal of the report, he said.

Observatories recommended for divestiture in the review include the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, a large radio telescope in West Virginia; and several telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.