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  • richardmitnick 2:17 pm on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    Alex Filippenko on the Lick Observatory 

    From The Daily Californian


    Alexei Filippenko
    Dr. Alex Filippenko

    Saving Lick Observatory for the next generation

    keep off
    Mandy Zheng/Staff

    I congratulate Virgie Hoban on her thoughtful and thorough Sept. 2 article about the University of California’s Lick Observatory, “Facing a waning future: Researchers reel from defunding of only UC-owned observatory,” as well as The Daily Californian’s Senior Editorial Board for its follow-up comments in “Student research comes first,” published Sept. 4.

    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Observatory interior
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope

    I am pouring my heart and soul into saving Lick largely because of my deep commitment to UC students and postdoctoral scholars who would be disproportionately affected by its defunding. Costing only $1.3 million per year for core operations, Lick delivers a fantastic bang for the buck and is also the public face of UC astronomy in California, annually serving more than 35,000 visitors.

    In her Sept. 9 response, “UC does not plan to shut down Lick Observatory,” Provost and Executive Vice President Aimee Dorr states that “the University of California never planned to close Lick Observatory.” But this assertion is disingenuous. Most readers conclude that if UCOP systemwide funding for Lick vanishes by 2018 and other funding isn’t found, Lick will shut down, especially because UCOP has not articulated any specific alternative sources of funding.

    We are grateful that Provost Dorr is now publicly supportive of Lick and recently agreed to provide some UCOP funding to help pay for an expert positioning and marketing plan commissioned by the Lick Observatory Council, of which I am president. These are positive signs of progress. But though I favor this long-term strategy, the current situation is critical: concrete fundraising must commence immediately, because the UCOP ramp-down will begin in 2016, and we risk losing our best employees by mid 2015. Time is ticking — we need to take action now.

    UCOP, ideally, would provide funds — $1.3 million per year — for core operations of Lick. Additional private donations could then be used for improvements that would keep Lick at the forefront of research and education. But at a minimum, UCOP should provide $650,000 annually to match funds we obtain from private donors. I have discussed Lick with many potential donors, and they frequently request a financial commitment from UCOP. Otherwise, Lick appears unimportant to the UC top brass, so they may likewise lose interest.

    I have informed UCOP of prospective donors’ desires. And in the May 12 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, an article about the Lick funding situation stated, “…(Dorr) said (Lick’s) supporters will need to meet the university ‘halfway there, or even a quarter-way there.’ ” To many, including myself, this sounds like UCOP is indeed willing to provide matching funds — but before making promises to potential donors, I have repeatedly sought clarification from Provost Dorr, to no avail. Please, Provost Dorr, give me the ammunition needed to help us succeed in Lick fundraising.

    I believe, out of an annual UC budget exceeding $23 billion, funds for at least partial support exist. For example, starting in 2018, the university’s share of the operating costs of the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii drops to 50 percent: a savings of about $6.5 million per year. Indeed, with an endowment of only $30 million — not much larger than the probable Lick-closing costs — the university could fund core Lick operations in perpetuity.

    But is Lick really a priority worthy of UCOP funding? Yes, it is, when you consider all of the relevant factors: Lick’s low cost, which is only 6 percent of the UCOP astronomy budget; important projects requiring huge numbers of nights on modest-size Lick telescopes, which is not doable with the giant Keck telescopes; new cutting-edge instruments efficiently developed and tested at Lick; public outreach and, especially, Lick’s accessibility for UC students and postdocs.

    The UC Observatories Board, unfortunately, recommends that UCOP funding for Lick be phased out. But committees sometimes make mistakes. Several astronomers on this board don’t use Lick for their personal research, and a significant fraction of the members have never even visited Lick. The opinions of students and postdocs were not solicited.

    Many UC astronomy faculty do not conduct projects suitable for undergraduates, but they should still support those of us who do — for example, roughly a dozen undergraduates in my group use Lick — just as I favor the building of a specific new instrument for Keck that might cost $10-15 million, despite not personally planning to use it. I’m also disappointed that some faculty seem to place little value on the training and independence gained by graduate students and postdocs who lead their own research projects at Lick — or on the building and testing of new instruments, an activity so passionately described by UC Davis graduate student Sona Hosseini in the Sept. 2 article.

    UC President Janet Napolitano easily could do the right thing. The decision to ramp down and terminate funding for Lick was made before she took office. Thus, she could reverse it, diplomatically citing a reassessment of the relative costs and benefits, especially for UC students: the very people the university is designed to serve. In so doing, she would end this controversy and add credibility to her assertions that she really does value the students of the university.

    Students and others, meanwhile, can make a difference. Find out more about Lick at http://www.ucolick.org/SaveLick/, and click on the “Save Lick Observatory” tab to learn about writing letters to UCOP, donating funds, becoming a friend of Lick Observatory and raising public awareness. Together, we can save Lick!

    Alex Filippenko is an astronomy professor at UC Berkeley.

    [Here is a link for the Lick donation page. Here is the mailing address if you just want to mail a check as I did.

    UCO/Lick Observatory
    1156 High Street
    Santa Cruz, CA 95065

    Checks should be made out to the UC Santa Cruz Foundation with Lick Observatory written in the memo line or on another sheet of paper. Please note that the UC Observatories (which includes Lick) are headquartered at UC Santa Cruz and operate on behalf of the entire University of California system.

    If you would like to speak with someone in more detail about the specific needs at Lick Observatory, please contact Rebecca Zeilon, Sr. Director of Development at 831-459-4240 or rzeilon@ucsc.edu

    Lick is one of the very few places that a ten year old boy or girl can actually touch and use a telescope. What a loss its closing would be.]

  • richardmitnick 5:15 am on August 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From SPACE.com: “Lick Observatory: Searching for Exoplanets & Funds” 

    space-dot-com logo


    August 23, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    Lick Observatory is an astronomical research facility in California that has been in operation since 1888. Astronomers at Lick are searching for planets outside the solar system, trying to understand how stars and galaxies came to be, and doing a survey of supernovae to learn about the universe’s history. The University of California owns and operates the observatory; however, Lick will soon lose funding.

    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at Lick

    “Citing budget stringency, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) has announced its intention to terminate funding for Lick in 2018,” the observatory’s website states. “Lick operations currently cost $1.5 million per year. Unless these funds are replaced, the telescopes will close. Also closing will be the public programs, including access to the 36-inch refractor and the main building.”

    The office is spending the next three years in search of new partners to take on a share of the cost, the website said in mid-2014, and is also examining how much it would cost to close down the telescope and deconstruct it, leaving the site close to its original condition.


    The facility sits at 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) atop Mount Hamilton, which is east of San Jose, California. Funding came from James Lick, who bought 37 tracts of land in San Francisco in 1848, just weeks before the gold rush, according to the observatory’s website. Lick bequeathed funds before he died in 1876, desiring a telescope that was “superior to and more powerful” than others that came before it, states the observatory’s website.

    “Lick’s deed of trust did not spell out the details of the new observatory, leaving the board of trust great latitude and a great burden of responsibility in carrying out his wishes,” the website added.

    The board debated whether to use a refracting telescope (which focuses light with lenses) or a reflecting telescope (which uses mirrors instead), but at the time, reflectors were just coming on the scene. Officials elected to use a refractor at first (only adding a reflector in later years).

    Most telescopes of the era were built in cities, but astronomers were rapidly meeting with disadvantages as light pollution became more prevalent. This led astronomers to choose a mountaintop site instead for the new observatory. Lick bills itself as the “first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory in the world,” and currently houses several telescopes.
    Current research

    Lick’s extrasolar planet search involves monitoring about 1,000 stars that are close to the sun’s age, temperature and luminosity (intrinsic brightness), Lick states. This is done using the Shane reflector telescope and the Hamilton spectrograph, as well as a newly built Automated Planet Finder.

    “Many Jupiter-size and Saturn-size planets have been discovered. As technology improves, smaller planets will be discovered more frequently. The ultimate goal of extrasolar planet search is to discover a solar system similar to our own, with Earth-like planets that may support life,” the Lick site states.

    Additionally, Lick astronomers are looking at stars to see how elements are created — particularly, how stars evolve to create metals and other elements. The scientists examine older stars that are at different phases in their evolution, looking for similarities and differences. Astronomers also look at high redshift galaxies, which are quite far away from Earth and are early in their evolution.

    Another research direction is examining supernovae to see why stars explode and what types are more prone to exploding.

    “The Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT) is programmed to search robotically for distant supernovae on every clear night of the year,” Lick states. “If KAIT ‘sees’ differences in luminosity within a galaxy, indicating a possible supernova, it notifies astronomers, who investigate further using the Kast spectrograph.”

    UCO LICK Kait

    Public outreach

    Lick’s outreach program includes a summer observation program in which visitors are allowed to look through the 36-inch (91 centimeters) Great Lick Refractor and the 40-inch (101 cm) Nickel Reflecting Telescope. Additional telescopes from amateurs are available outside. Astronomers also give lectures on their research.

    The observatory also holds a Music of the Spheres Concert series every summer, which includes tours, lectures and viewings through the telescopes. Music can range from jazz to fusion to Celtic, according to the 2014 program.

    The Friends of Lick Observatory is a group that encourages the community to contribute to the telescopes. Some ongoing projects in 2014 include raising money for refurbishing the 36-inch refractor and constructing a Shane Adaptive Optics System to improve what the telescopes can see through the turbulent atmosphere. But the primary consideration is keeping the observatory open, the Friends’ Web page says. [I have included this link so that my readers who love Astronomy can easily access information on how they can donate to save Lick. I have sent my US$100 contribution. Please send whatever you can. As much as this is an astronomical organization, it is also an educational one. it would be a shame if it was lost.]

    “Lick’s future is now being challenged by the impending withdrawal in 2018 of funding from the University of California, ending a 126-year partnership,” the site states. “Now more than ever, Lick’s future depends on the excellence of its science and its dedicated community of friends.”

    See the full article here..

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  • richardmitnick 5:03 am on June 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From Dennis Overbye at the New York Times: “A Star-Gazing Palace’s Hazy Future” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    Dennis Overbye

    JUNE 2, 2014

    This is copyright protected, so just a glimpse.

    James Lick, a piano manufacturer and land baron in 19th-century California, wanted to build himself a pyramid, but a friend persuaded him to leave his money to science. And so it came to be that Lick was buried under a telescope on Mount Hamilton, 30 miles south of San Francisco.

    It was there that the University of California, fueled by his $700,000 bequest, founded Lick Observatory, the first of the great mountaintop outposts that would make California the center of 20th-century astronomy.

    UCO Lick Observatory

    But this is the 21st century. Last year the university served notice that it planned to spin off Lick in order to concentrate its resources on bigger telescopes in Hawaii, including a $1.2 billion the Thirty-Meter Telescope that is to be built by an international collaboration by the end of the decade. It has launched Lick on a “glide path” to self-sufficiency by 2018.

    Thirty Meter Telescope

    There has been no peace in the California heavens since. The plan, part of a general retrenchment and budget flattening, has set off something like a civil war among California astronomers — “brother against brother,” in the words of Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. They fear the move could lead to the closing of the venerable observatory, a valuable research and educational tool for students and faculty, and undermine the university’s longtime leadership in astronomy. “Other astronomers are quaking in their boots,” Dr. Filippenko said.

    See the full article here

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