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  • richardmitnick 5:09 am on March 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Irish Examiner via UCSC: “Blackrock Castle Observatory is the perfect space” Again Lick Shines in STEM 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz


    March 18, 2016
    John Tynan

    It was an out-of-the-blue phone call from an American that led to a space observatory being built in Cork City. Nine years on, and the project is being applauded worldwide for its work with children, writes John Tynan


    It was a Friday evening in 2002. Niall Smith was preparing to leave the office for the weekend when the phone rang.

    The man at the end of line introduced himself. He was Texan, called Gary O’Keeffe and he wanted to know where the observatory was in Cork.

    Niall Smith, an astrophysicist at CIT, had to tell him that the city didn’t have one. O’Keeffe said it was a pity and that one should be developed. Smith had to agree with him.

    “So myself and Alan Giltinan started looking for sites with Gary and we spent the best part of two years in farmers’ fields, different locations, looking at dark sites, essentially. But the cost of buying land prohibited our plans, plus we had planning and rezoning issues”.

    Two years later, Cork City Council bought the 16th-century Blackrock Castle from an engineering company. Its tower, three miles from the city centre, was built by the citizens of Cork in 1582 to protect the harbour from pirates.

    Smith sent off a two-liner letter to the then city manager Joe Gavin suggesting that it would be a great site for an observatory. They were shocked when Gavin came back to them quickly, said he really liked the idea and asked for a two-pager expanding on their plans.

    Co-founders of the Blackrock Castle Observatory , Alan Giltinan, systems manager, Blackrock Castle Observatory, and Dr Niall Smith, head of research CIT. Picture: Gavin Browne

    “Shortly afterwards, we found out it had been given the green light by the council. It was like all our Christmases had come together. Following much renovation, we opened in 2007.”

    “When Blackrock Castle was built, people did not even understand what stars were. In fact, Blackrock Castle pre-dates the invention of the telescope,” says Smith, sitting in his office surrounded by research papers. “A phrase we use about our location is 21st-century technology in a 16th-century castle”.

    Blackrock is a working observatory, generating new knowledge. It’s a science and discovery centre with PhD students actively conducting research.

    “Much of the research we do has its basis in conversations we had with Aidan O’Connor, who, like Gary Keeffe, is now deceased. Aidan was a lecturer and a brilliant researcher and intimately involved with discussions about BCO at the outset. He also did a lot of the original data analysis.”

    A primary function of the observatory is educating children, under the tutelage of the effervescent ‘performance astronomer’ Frances McCarthy, who has a degree in astronomy and physics from the University of Toronto and experience in interactive museums around the world.

    “We’ve been running a project called TARA, where we allow children to remotely operate a small telescope on the roof of a school in California and the key thing is the eight-hour time difference as it allows Irish children during the day to see the US skies at night.

    “We are now installing a telescope in Pune, India. They are five-and-a-half hours ahead, which means we can access it in the afternoon and also later for after-school clubs. The telescope in California also gives opportunities for Irish children to interact with American children. This has been moderately successful, but we are breaking new ground.

    “We also have an agreement to get access to a bigger telescope in California at the world-famous Lick Observatory, which is linked with University of California, Berkeley [really? Read “Santa Cruz”]. We are looking to raise €20,000 to allow 50 nights’ access to the telescope. This telescope has more than six times the light-collecting ability of the telescope at Blackrock Castle, but it is also in a dark site. The quality of the images for the children will be amazing. You could track an asteroid, for example, with this telescope, or look at distant quasars. These are among the most distant objects in the universe. The children will be able to search for supernova, stars that are dying or forming, there’s a universe of stuff you can see with it.

    “What’s interesting is that nobody outside ourselves will have access to the Lick telescope for this kind of project. Basically, they liked our project TARA… bringing astronomy into schools.” Smith says the figures speak for themselves when it came to the observatory’s popularity.

    Children at the observatory. Picture: Gavin Browne

    “We will have over 30,000 children doing workshops, either in the castle or through our outreach programme this year. We also have another 30,000 drop-in visitors. On top of that, we have another 50,000 who visit the castle site and while most would be going to the popular Castle restaurant, they still see our exhibits in the courtyard, so they are being touched and made aware of science, even if it’s only marginally.

    A number of times during the year, Cork Astronomy Club bring their telescopes to the castle for observing sessions that are open to the public.

    Prepare to be spaced out: On a clear night, you would see about two-thirds of the way across the universe with the Blackrock Castle telescope. That’s about 30bn light years.

    “We don’t even have the biggest telescope in Cork — an amateur astronomer has one twice the size — but the work we are doing is important in developing techniques in observing. Size doesn’t always count. We can take the techniques we are developing and apply them elsewhere on bigger telescopes.” The future looks good for the observatory, which is managed on behalf of CIT by a wholly-owned subsidiary, Cosmos Education, says Smith.

    BCO had its most successful year last year, but, importantly, secured two generous grants in recognition of its work to date.

    See the full article here .

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

    UC Santa Cruz campus

    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

  • richardmitnick 2:15 pm on July 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From UCO: “Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory Joins Massive Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    July 20, 2015
    Hilary Lebow

    Venus appears bright in the sky just behind the 2.4-meter Automated Planet Finder dome at Lick Observatory. Fully robotic and equipped with a high-resolution spectrograph optimized for precision Doppler measurements, the APF telescope enables off-site astronomers to detect rocky planets of Earth-size masses within our local galactic neighborhood. Photo by Laurie Hatch.

    Today investor Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking announced a $100 Million Breakthrough Prize Initiative to dramatically reinvigorate the search for intelligent life in the universe over the next ten years.

    This is the biggest scientific search yet for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope above San Jose, California, will undertake a new deep and broad search for optical laser transmissions from nearby civilizations, if any exist.

    The APF is the newest telescope at Lick Observatory. It consists of a 2.4-meter automated telescope and enclosure, and the high-resolution Levy spectrograph. It operates robotically on every clear night of the year; its main emphasis to date has been on discovering and characterizing extrasolar planets.

    With this new Breakthrough Prize Initiative, the APF telescope and its Levy spectrometer will search 1,000 nearby stars and 100 nearby galaxies for visible-light laser emission from technological sources. Lasers may be used by other civilizations for communication between their home planet and satellites, interplanetary spacecraft, or colonies on other worlds.

    Such laser emissions will be distinguished from the emission from astronomical objects by the extreme single-wavelength nature of laser emission, and by the unresolved point source (a dot in the sky) from which the emission originates. It may even be that the Milky Way contains a galactic internet of laser emission. If so, the APF may be able to eavesdrop on their transmissions.

    “As part of the Breakthrough Prize Initiative, the APF telescope will undertake the most extensive search for optical laser transmissions in history,” said Claire Max, Interim Director of UC Observatories. It is a tremendous honor to participate in a project of this size and scope.”

    The initiative was announced today (July 20) at The Royal Society in London. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation is also contracting with two of the world’s largest radio telescopes for the search– the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope [GBT] in West Virginia and the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.


    CSIRO Parkes Observatory
    CSIRO Parkes Observatory

    “We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend up-ward significantly,” said Frank Drake, SETI pioneer and UCSC Professor Emeritus in Astronomy and Astrophysics. “Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all. That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure.”

    The overall program will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the center of our galaxy and the galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way galaxy, telescopes will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies.

    “We learned from the NASA Kepler mission that our Milky Way Galaxy contains tens of billions of Earth-size planets at lukewarm temperatures, any of which might harbor life,” said Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Berkeley.

    Other project leaders include Dan Wertheimer (SETI), Andrew Siemion (Berkeley SETI Research Center), Lord Martin Rees (University of Cambridge), Pete Worden (Breakthrough Prize Foundation) and Ann Druyan (Cosmos Studios).

    Lick Observatory is located on the summit of Mt. Hamilton in the Diablo Range east of San Jose, CA. Founded in 1888, Lick Observatory is a forefront astronomical research facility operated by the UC Observatories (UCO), a multicampus research unit that serves eight University of California campuses and is headquartered at UC Santa Cruz.

    Inside the dome of the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory.Photo by Laurie Hatch.

    See the full article here.

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    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

  • richardmitnick 5:21 am on March 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NIROSETI, , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From UCSD: “Search for extraterrestrial intelligence extends to new realms” 

    UC San Diego bloc

    UC San Diego

    March 19, 2015
    Susan Brown

    The NIROSETI team with their new infrared detector inside the dome at Lick Observatory. Left to right: Remington Stone, Dan Wertheimer, Jérome Maire, Shelley Wright, Patrick Dorval and Richard Treffers. Photos by © Laurie Hatch [at the UCO Lick Nickel One meter telescope on which NIROSETI is installed]

    New instrument will scan the sky for pulses of infrared light

    Astronomers have expanded the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light. Their new instrument has just begun to scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from greater distances. It also takes less energy to send the same amount of information using infrared signals than it would with visible light.

    The idea dates back decades, Wright pointed out. Charles Townes, the late UC Berkeley scientist whose contributions to the development of lasers led to a Nobel Prize, suggested the idea in a paper published in 1961.

    Scientists have searched the heavens for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search to the optical realm more than a decade ago. But instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light have only recently become available.

    Shelley Wright holds a fiber tht emits infrared light for calibration of the detectors.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said, for technology to catch up. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Three years ago while at the Dunlap Institute, Wright purchased newly available detectors and tested them to see if they worked well enough to deploy to a telescope. She found that they did. Jérome Maire, a Fellow at the Dunlap, “turned the screws,” Wright said, playing a key role in the hands-on effort to develop the new instrument, called NIROSETI for near-infrared optical SETI.

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed to for potential signs of other civilizations, a record that could be revisited as new ideas about what signals extraterrestrials might send emerge.

    Because infrared light penetrates farther through gas and dust than visible light, this new search will extend to stars thousands rather than merely hundreds of light years away. And the success of the Kepler Mission, which has found habitable planets orbiting stars both like and unlike our own, has prompted the new search to look for signals from a wider variety of stars.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    NIROSETI has been installed at the University of California’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose and saw first light on March 15.

    Skies cleared for a successful first night for NIROSETI at Lick Observatory. The ghost image is Shelley Wright, pausing for a moment during this long exposure as the rest of her team continued to test the new instrument inside the dome.

    Lick Observatory has been the site of several previous SETI searches including an instrument to look in the optical realm, which Wright built as an undergraduate student at UC Santa Cruz under the direction of Remington Stone, the director of operations at Lick at that time. Dan Werthimer* and Richard Treffers of UC Berkeley designed that first optical instrument. All three are playing critical roles in the new search.

    NIROSETI could uncover new information about the physical universe as well. “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” Werthimer said. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    Patrick Dorval, Jérome Maire and Shelley Wright in the control room of the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, where their new instrument has been deployed.

    The group also includes SETI pioneer Frank Drake of the SETI Institute and UC Santa Cruz who serves as a senior advisor to both past and future projects and is an active observer at the telescope.

    Drake pointed out several additional advantages to a search in this new realm. “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success.” he said. The receivers are also much more affordable that those used on radio telescopes.

    “There is only one downside: the extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction,” Drake said, though he sees a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student. Shelley Wright is also a member of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at UC San Diego. Richard Treffers is now at Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

    See the full article here.
    [The owner of this blog is a small financial supporter of UCO Lick, SETI Institute, UC Santa Cruz where UCO is managed, and SETI@home, which caused him to spend an inordinate amount of time on this post. I hope it gets read by a lot of people.

    *Dan Werthimer is co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project and directs other UC Berkeley SETI searches at radio, infrared and visible wavelengths, including the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations (SERENDIP). He is also the principal investigator for the worldwide Collaboration for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research (CASPER). SETI@home runs on software developed by BOINC at UC Berkeley.

    SETI@home screensaver

    Dan Werthimer

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    UC San Diego Campus

    The University of California, San Diego (also referred to as UC San Diego or UCSD), is a public research university located in the La Jolla area of San Diego, California, in the United States.[12] The university occupies 2,141 acres (866 ha) near the coast of the Pacific Ocean with the main campus resting on approximately 1,152 acres (466 ha).[13] Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is the seventh oldest of the 10 University of California campuses and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, enrolling about 22,700 undergraduate and 6,300 graduate students. UC San Diego is one of America’s Public Ivy universities, which recognizes top public research universities in the United States. UC San Diego was ranked 8th among public universities and 37th among all universities in the United States, and rated the 18th Top World University by U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2015 rankings.

  • richardmitnick 5:48 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From UC Berkeley: “Google gives Lick Observatory $1 million” 

    UC Berkeley

    UC Berkeley

    Google Inc. has given $1 million to the University of California’s Lick Observatory in what astronomers hope is the first of many private gifts to support an invaluable teaching and research resource for the state.

    Telescope using laser guide star adaptive optics at UC’s Lick Observatory. (Laurie Hatch photo)

    The unrestricted funds, spread over two years, will go toward general expenses, augmenting the $1.5 million the UC Office of the President gives annually to operate the mountaintop observatory for the 10-campus UC system.

    “Lick Observatory has been making important discoveries while training generations of scientists for more than 100 years,” said Chris DiBona, director of open source for Google. “Google is proud to support their efforts in 2015 to bring hands-on astronomical experiences to students and the public.”

    “This is very exciting,” said UC Berkeley astronomy professor Alex Filippenko, who has been beating the bushes for funds to operate the observatory after UC support dropped as a result of the recent recession.

    “Astronomy is the ‘gateway science’ – kids are enthralled by cosmic discoveries, spectacular images, and far-out concepts, which can inspire them to pursue technical fields such as applied physics, engineering and computer science,” Filippenko said. “So there’s a real opportunity to make a difference, through the research, education and public outreach we do at Lick Observatory.”

    “I am delighted that Google is supporting the Lick effort and thus helping provide UC students with unique hands-on experiences in valuable astronomy research,” said UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming.

    “We at UC highly value Lick Observatory’s unique capabilities,” said Claire Max, interim director of the University of California Observatories (UCO), which operates Lick, and which manages UC’s share of the twin 10-meter W. M. Keck Telescopes in Hawaii and the planned Thirty Meter Telescope that broke ground last year close to Keck on Mauna Kea. “For example, Lick’s telescopes enable science projects that need lots of repeated observations during the course of a year or more; these can be done much more successfully at Lick than at the 8−10-meter telescopes, where observing time is extremely tight. Google’s very generous gift will make it possible for Lick to provide these opportunities and to continue to develop forefront tools such as adaptive optics, which removes image blurring caused by turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.”

    “For 127 years, Lick Observatory has been vital in fundamental astronomical research, the development of new observational techniques, training students and connecting the general public to the heavens.”
    – U.S. Rep. Mike Honda

    Lick Observatory, located atop Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose, was established in 1888 and currently houses seven telescopes, including the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope run by Filippenko that scans the sky each night in search of exploding stars (supernovae), which help astronomers understand the accelerating expansion of the universe and dark energy.

    UCO LICK Kait

    Another robotic telescope, the Automated Planet Finder, closely examines many stars each night to find planets that may be orbiting them.

    UCO Lick Automated Planet Finder Telescope
    APF telescope

    Faculty, researchers, postdoctoral scholars and students throughout the UC system can observe remotely on the main general-use telescopes, the three-meter Shane telescope and the one-meter Nickel telescope. “These telescopes provide undergraduates with a unique opportunity to participate in substantial astronomical research,” Filippenko said. “I have about a dozen undergraduate students doing Lick research now, many more than ever before.”

    Defining the cutting edge

    Before the recession, Lick’s budget was about $2.5 million annually to support astronomers and students from eight of the 10 UC campuses as well as the UC-managed Department of Energy labs. Most of the first 100 planets orbiting other stars were discovered at Lick using a forefront instrument that was the best of its kind at the time. Lick observations also helped reveal the presence of giant black holes in the centers of galaxies. In part thanks to large numbers of relatively nearby supernovae found or studied at Lick, astronomers discovered and verified the accelerating expansion of the universe, a feat recognized with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to the leaders of two competing teams and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to all team members.

    The telescopes are used not only for original observing in the optical and infrared, but also to design and test new instruments destined for larger telescopes, such as the 10-meter Keck telescopes. For example, laser guide star adaptive optics, which allows the world’s largest telescopes to stabilize their images to improve sharpness and achieve results in some ways superior to those of the Hubble Space Telescope, was pioneered at Lick.

    “At this time, UC is providing basic support at $1.5 million per year, but we really need at least $2.5 million per year to improve the observatory, moving forward vigorously at the cutting edge of research and education. To maintain and expand Lick in the long run, we seek an endowment of about $50 million,” Filippenko said. The interest on that endowment would be used to provide annual operating funds. “This major award from Google should go far, giving us time to raise additional funds.”

    “I was delighted to learn of this wonderful gift from Google,” said Aimée Dorr, UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “It will do great things for the astronomical research and education that can be carried out at Lick Observatory. Congratulations to Professor Filippenko, who knows firsthand how valuable Lick is and has dedicated his considerable energy and expertise to ensuring it is available far into the future.”

    Alex Filippenko with his Katzman Automated integrating Telescope at Lick Observatory

    “I’m pleased that this generous award will help Lick Observatory keep its doors open to the public, to future astronomers and to the scientific community in a capacity that is simply unavailable anywhere else,” said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who previously spearheaded two letters of congressional support for Lick to the UC Office of the President. “Lick is an historic Santa Clara County landmark, and the facility has proven invaluable for students, researchers and the Bay Area community. I hope this is the beginning of many gifts recognizing Lick Observatory’s important role in inspiring future scientists and adding to our understanding of what lies beyond our solar system.”

    U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, a longtime supporter and advocate for the observatory, added, “I am delighted that Google has decided to give $1 million to Lick Observatory. For 127 years, Lick Observatory has been vital in fundamental astronomical research, the development of new observational techniques, training students and connecting the general public to the heavens. I am pleased to see private companies step up and invest in America’s scientific leadership. I look forward to others joining Google to ensure that Lick Observatory will continue to explore the universe for years to come.”

    “Lick Observatory has provided critical data for University of California researchers, and Google’s major support will ensure that the observatory will continue to serve as the foundation for countless scientific discoveries to come,” said state Assemblymember Mark Stone.

    One of the first uses for the money, which comes through the UC Berkeley Foundation, will be to hire another telescope operator for the Shane three-meter telescope to eliminate periodic closures caused by the current shortage of staff, Filippenko said.

    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior

    Interim UCO director Max said that another probable use of the funds will be to continue the development of laser guide star adaptive optics, which is breaking new ground at Lick Observatory.

    Lick also recently received $350,000 in combined grants from the Heising-Simons Foundation and donors Bill and Marina Kast to enable an upgrade of the Kast spectrograph on the three-meter telescope, used to analyze faint celestial objects – including supernovae – at distances ranging from our own solar system to the far reaches of the universe.

    “Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can be leaders of research done at Lick,” Filippenko said. ”They conceive, propose, execute and complete their own projects, thereby adding immensely to their development as strong, skilled, independent research scientists. We have to keep this unique research and educational institution, a Bay Area treasure and California landmark, thriving.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:39 pm on November 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From San Jose Mercury News: “Why UC changed its mind about funding Lick Observatory” 


    Lisa M. Krieger

    The University of California has reversed its decision to pull funding from Lick Observatory, the historic haven atop Mount Hamilton where researchers search for Earth-like planets and students can design and build their own astronomical projects.

    But the observatory’s budget remains very lean and greater financial support — from UC and outside donors — remains critical to its future success.

    “We have emerged, but we’re grievously wounded,” said Steve Vogt, who leads Lick’s team of planet-hunting astronomers at UC Santa Cruz. “We are struggling to rebuild and recover.”

    UC’s budget for its observatories has fallen from its peak in the 1990s and stayed flat in recent years, unable to keep up with inflation and other climbing costs.

    Astronomer Elinor Gates manually moves the 36″ Refractor telescope at Lick Observatory east of San Jose, Calif., May 8, 2013. (Gary Reyes, Mercury News)

    Then UC stunned Lick with the news last year that the facility had to find non-university sources of revenue — such as Silicon Valley-based philanthropists — to underwrite operating costs.

    On Tuesday, UC announced that it no longer intends “to require that Lick Observatory be self supporting.”

    Insiders credit several factors with UC’s decision to continue support. One is the arrival of respected UC Santa Barbara physicist Michael Witherell as the provost’s special assistant for UC astronomy. Another is the departure of Steven Beckwith, the former UC vice president of research and graduate studies, who favored space-based instruments over ground-based telescopes, such as those at Lick.

    Another reason is the outpouring of public support for the 126-year-old observatory, east of San Jose.

    Perhaps the greatest influence was the rapport between newly appointed Claire Max as director of UC Observatories and UC Provost Aimee Dorr.

    “We looked at each other and said: ‘We can figure out how to make this happen,’ ” said Max. “We built trust, agreed on joint goals and figured out how to work productively.”

    UC’s decision will help boost private funding, said scientists. Donors have helped buy high-end instrumentation, essential to quality research.

    “Commitment to continued UC funding for Lick will make a huge difference for donors,” said Garth Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy and a member of the group that manages the university’s telescopes. “The donors really needed to see that (UC) was willing to support Lick.”

    But the long-term scientific success of Lick depends on greater UC funding of its day-to-day operational expenses, astronomers say.

    Although Lick’s telescopes lack the huge mirrors of newer ones, its supporters say the observatory is an important test site for new technologies.

    It is the university’s only fully owned observatory — and the only one where graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from across the UC system can design and execute their own research projects. About 100 faculty, students and post-docs study there.

    Anticipated budgets have enough money to run Lick Observatory for the next five years, albeit at a frugal level, according to Max.

    “It’s one thing to say ‘You can continue to operate,’ and another thing to have the money to do it,” said Illingworth.

    “UC has not addressed that part of the problem.”

    Already, several prominent astronomers have left Lick because of funding uncertainties. One major loss was noted instrument builder Rebecca Bernstein, recently hired by the rival Giant Magellan Telescope project.

    “We now have a stable — but very frugal — budget that will, at least, give us breathing room,” said Vogt.

    “For those who care about Lick, now is the time to step forward.”

    Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098

    support for Observatory

    Friends of Lick Observatory contributes to its research and enjoys special connections with the telescopes, scientists and science programs. Lick has received substantial gifts from private donors such as Ken and Gloria Levy who enabled the purchase of the Doppler spectrograph for the Automated Planet-Finder telescope. A Double Spectrograph was made possible with funding from William and Marina Kast. The Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope, the world’s most successful nearby supernova search engine, was funded by Jim Katzman, co-founder of Tandem Computers and an astronomy buff.To learn more, go to http://www.ucolick.org/public/friends/index.html

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  • richardmitnick 5:37 am on November 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From NYT: “Funding Is Restored for Storied California Observatory” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    NOV. 5, 2014

    NYT Dennis Overbye

    A year after the University of California announced that it would phase out all funding for its storied Lick Observatory, sparking fears that the observatory could close if it could not find outside support, the university said on Tuesday that it had changed its mind.

    As Aimée Dorr, provost and executive vice president of the university, and Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president, said in an Oct. 29 letter to the acting director of the observatory, Claire Max of the University of California, Santa Cruz, “We are rescinding our previous requirements that Lick Observatory become self supporting.”

    Lick, which started operations in 1888, is the oldest mountaintop observatory in the West, located on Mount Hamilton, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. In recent years it has played a pivotal role in the discovery of dark energy, which resulted in a Nobel Prize in 2011, and of planets around other stars.

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

    Lick costs the university about $1.3 million a year to operate, money that the university said was needed in a time of declining state support for new ventures like the mighty Keck telescopes it owns with Caltech on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the even mightier Thirty Meter Telescope, an international project under construction on Mauna Kea.

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory Interior

    TMT Schematic

    Acknowledging widespread interest among astronomers in keeping Lick alive, Provost Dorr and Mr. Brostrom wrote that they had never said they intended to close Lick and that recent budget plans suggested it could continue to operate without wrecking other projects.

    “Indeed,” they wrote, “we see the Lick, Keck and Thirty Meter Telescope Observatories as an integrated ecosystem that can together maintain and grow U.C.’s leadership in astronomy.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on October 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From Daily Californian: “Senate meets to support observatory, proposition, research campus” 

    Daily Californian

    The Daily Californian

    October 24, 2014
    Heyun Jeong

    The ASUC Senate passed bills supporting the preservation of Lick Observatory, a state proposition and a new research campus on Wednesday evening.

    UCO Lick Observatory
    Lick Observatory

    Adopted with unanimous consent, the bills establish the ASUC’s support for the different issues and order executives to write up letters or public statements on behalf of the ASUC.

    In response to talks of terminating UC funding for Lick Observatory by 2018, CalSERVE Senator Lavanya Jawaharlal sponsored SB 25 to show support in continuing the observatory’s operations. The bill establishes a committee of students to raise awareness and propose alternative funding options and urges the UC Office of the President to recommit funds.

    The talks of disinvestment make it “difficult to get outside funding, when private donors are wondering why they should invest money when the UC is cutting funding,” Jawaharlal said.

    The committee, which will be made up of two senators and five appointed students, will work on increasing communication with the campus administration and raising student awareness not only on the UC Berkeley campus, but also across the entire UC system.

    “It’s a UC-system owned observatory and not just Berkeley,” she said. “It affects all campuses. … It’s important to raise student awareness and mobilize all of the UC system students.”

    According to Jawaharlal, the ASUC is the first student government to pass such a bill or create a special committee for the observatory.

    The senate also passed a bill in support of Proposition 47, which would reclassify certain crimes to misdemeanors instead of felonies.

    Sponsored by CalSERVE Senator Yordanos Dejen, the bill states that the proposition “will ensure that prison spending is focused on violent and serious offenses and will maximize alternatives for non-serious, nonviolent crime.”

    The senate also showed support for plans of a research campus to be built in Richmond.

    The Richmond Bay Campus, which will be developed in phases over the next 40 years, will provide additional research facilities for both UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. By having the second campus in Richmond, bill sponsor and CalSERVE Senator Austin Pritzkat said he envisions that the campus will provide a much-needed revitalization of the economy for the surrounding neighborhood.

    Finance officer Dennis Lee was also confirmed as one of the two undergraduate representatives to the Student Union Board. He will replace Arushi Saxena and serve for the rest of the year with Ismael Contreras.

    Lee said he hopes to increase transparency by connecting the Student Union and the ASUC as the board focuses on overseeing commercial activities concerning the new Student Union, set to open next fall.

    See the full article here.

    The Daily Californian is an independent, student-run newspaper published by the Independent Berkeley Students Publishing Company, Inc. The newspaper serves the UC Berkeley campus and its surrounding community, publishing Monday through Friday during the academic year and twice a week during the summer. Established in 1871, The Daily Californian is one of the oldest newspapers on the West Coast and one of the oldest college newspapers in the country. Daily Cal staffers have the unique opportunity of gaining daily metro news experience in the lively city of Berkeley. The newspaper has consistently covered the city and its institutions since its establishment, allowing student journalists to report on campus as well as city news. The Daily Cal also operates Best of Berkeley, a city guide and local arts Web site for the city of Berkeley.

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  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on October 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , UCO Lick Observatory   

    From The Daily Californian:”Facing a waning future” The Fight to Save the Lick Observatory 

    Daily Californian

    The Daily Californian

    [This is old, but worth seeing]

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014
    Virgie Hoban

    Researchers reel from defunding of only UC-owned observatory

    Alex Filippenko feels betrayed.


    The world-renowned astronomer and nine-time winner of UC Berkeley’s best professor award is sitting behind a plate of steaming hot food, but he’s too worked up to eat.

    “I’ve been a loyal faculty member here for about three decades, despite many more lucrative offers from private institutions that I’ve rejected in part because of my great support in the principle of a great public university,” Filippenko said during an interview in May. “That’s what hurts — I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed by the University of California. I feel betrayed by the Office of the President.”

    His sense of betrayal stems from the university’s abrupt decision last year to terminate all funding for the university’s only fully owned observatory — the only one where graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from across the UC system can design and execute their own research projects.

    For Filippenko and others, Lick Observatory, perched just east of San Jose, California, on Mount Hamilton, represents the university’s fundamental contract with the people of California to cultivate the next generation of scientists and humanists. Yet, last September, to the outrage of many UC astronomers, students and lawmakers, the UC Office of the President announced it would be withdrawing all funds from the observatory by 2018 to shift these resources to newer facilities like the Thirty Meter Telescope, a $1.2 billion international collaboration currently under construction.

    TMT Schematic

    To Filippenko, who teaches the popular introductory astronomy course Astronomy C10, this is a travesty.

    “I’ve achieved stuff in my research career where one could say it’s gonna be all downhill from here,” said Filippenko, whose research at Lick helped corroborate supernovae as “cosmic yardsticks,” culminating in the 2011 Nobel Prize for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe. “I could just stop doing research — life would go on. I’m fighting in part for the next generation, and I’m not going to go away. (UCOP) thinks I’ve been a bit of a pain in their side already. Well, I’m willing to raise a bigger stink.”

    Lick Observatory rests atop Mount Hamilton, just east of San Jose, California. Many astronomers and their families reside and have built a community near the observatory. Photo: Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

    The next generation

    In the basement of Lick’s Shane telescope, Sona Hosseini — clad in UC Davis sweats that suggest she will be sleeping at the observatory again tonight — is crouched over a large instrument, tinkering with the manual guide camera she uses to mark comets.

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

    It’s a challenge to stabilize the camera in the basement, a cold place where the walls shake slightly as the dome ceiling moves for the Shane telescope’s nightly debut. Hosseini, fortunately, is ready to deal with any mishaps, as the instrument mounted to the telescope is one that the UC Davis doctoral student has designed and built herself.

    Today, as she navigates a frenzy of job offers, Hosseini credits much of her success to the independence and opportunities she was promised early on as a graduate student at the University of California.

    “If (UCOP) doesn’t allow students to do this — to mess up and rebuild and mess up and rebuild — we are just going to continue doing what we already know how to do.” — Sona Hosseini, a UC Davis doctoral student of applied science

    “When I came to the United States, I spent about a year traveling all over the country talking with professors in different universities, asking them if I can build my own instrument for my Ph.D., and the answer was no,” she said. “I went to UC Davis, found an advisor and he said, ‘Yes, you can do this, because we have the lab, and there’s Lick Observatory.’ As soon as he said that, I was sold.”

    Now, as Lick faces the threat of closure, many worry Hosseini serves as an example of what the university is set to lose.

    Under the plan devised by the UC Office of the President, students and postdoctoral researchers will lose the ability to be principal investigators of telescope proposals. In lieu of Lick, students will have to train at Keck Observatory, another facility partly owned by the university in Hawaii, or the Thirty Meter Telescope, also being built in Hawaii.

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory Interior

    The twin telescopes at Keck Observatory, however, are some of the most powerful on the planet — a precious resource for the most accomplished researchers in the world and one too valuable for a graduate student’s tinkering. Students are prohibited from applying for time at Keck and will be similarly restricted from the Thirty Meter Telescope when it opens.

    Lick, on the other hand, is fully owned and operated by the university, which allows graduate students to lead projects they independently design. This pushes students to think on their own and learn from their mistakes — to grow into leaders in their field, says Filippenko, who has 15 undergraduate students on his research team monitoring supernova explosions.

    In Hosseini’s eyes, the funds saved by cutting the observatory are not worth the perhaps incalculable damages to the next generation.

    “If (UCOP) doesn’t allow students to do this — to mess up and rebuild and mess up and rebuild — we are just going to continue doing what we already know how to do and never do anything new,” Hosseini said. “Being at Lick, I become an inventor — I’m a thinker. You can never teach instrumentation to a person — it’s expertise that comes with doing.”

    Lick’s aluminizing vacuum tank, where researchers put new aluminum coatings on the glass mirror blanks for telescopes every four years. Photo: Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

    The decision

    As in a chicken-and-egg cycle, it is difficult to pinpoint the origin for the decision to cut Lick.

    Filippenko and other researchers blame fellow astronomer Steven Beckwith, the former UC vice president of research and graduate studies, for inappropriately acting on personal biases against Lick Observatory. Beckwith, Filippenko pointed out, is a former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute and has publicly belittled the merits of ground-based telescopes, such as those at Lick, in comparison to space-based instruments, such as Hubble telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA Hubble schematic
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    “The guy has openly expressed in rather contemptuous ways his lack of interest in ground-based telescopes,” said Garth Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy. “He views himself as a person to choose the direction of UC astronomy like a CEO in a company. But that’s not his job.”

    Beckwith, however, in an interview with The Daily Californian in July just after he stepped down from his position, said it was not his decision to cut Lick and instead pointed to the UC Observatories, or UCO, Board: an advisory board he convened in 2012 to guide the separate entity that oversees Lick Observatory.

    “It’s not my opinion you have to look at…It’s the opinion of a much larger body of astronomers.” — Steven Beckwith, a former UC vice president of research and graduate studies

    In June 2013, the UCO Board recommended the university terminate all funding for Lick. Following suit, UCOP will implement a “glide path” for Lick in 2016, phasing out all funding from $1.3 million to zero by 2018.

    “It’s not my opinion you have to look at,” Beckwith said. “It’s the opinion of a much larger body of astronomers.”

    Thus begins an administrative game of hot potato.

    While administrators refer to the UCO Board, the basis for the board’s recommendation seems to boomerang back to UC President Janet Napolitano’s administration.

    “You will have to ask the systemwide provost about this,” said UCO Board member Sam Traina in an email. “I will not comment.”

    All 13 UCO Board members either declined to comment on the board’s recommendation or did not respond to requests to do so for this article.

    Systemwide provost and executive vice president Aimee Dorr, like Beckwith, passed the baton back to the board.

    “We didn’t make a decision a priori that no matter what, Lick has to go,” Dorr said in an interview with the Daily Cal. “It was based on all of these constraints and all this advice.”

    The validity of that advice and its original inspiration, however, has sparked controversy and discontent among UC astronomers who condemn the board’s lack of astronomy expertise and see the board as an extension of Beckwith’s agenda.

    Of the 13 members on the UCO Board, only six have experience in astronomy or astrophysics. Members, moreover, were each appointed by Beckwith — “procedures which undermine the independence and authority of the board,” according to a 2012 letter signed by more than 50 UC astronomers. The letter criticized the board’s inappropriate constitution and marginal representation of the UC astronomy community.

    “The way the board has been set up, it’s really been a tool for the president’s office — it’s just a bunch of ‘yes’ people,” said Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz astronomy professor. “It’s not an independent group, and it is not very interested in Lick or UC astronomy.”

    Still, Beckwith asserts the board needed a significant supply of budget-minded administrators who fully understand the realities of unforgiving budget cuts.

    According to Beckwith, the budget for the UC research office has decreased by 40 percent over the last six years. While other programs in his former office have suffered multimillion-dollar cuts throughout the years, UC Observatories’ budget had remained unscathed by these cuts until last year. Only now, he says, is UC Observatories experiencing the pains felt across the university system.

    “We do the best we can to secure money, but that money is decreasing,” Beckwith said, adding that it is, in fact, fields such as engineering and the humanities that have borne the brunt of research budget cuts. “It’s very common and very painful when research funding declines overall. We have to make choices.”

    Yet former UC Observatories interim director Sandra Faber emphasized that there is money available for Lick. In its 2014 report, the Portfolio Review Group, charged with evaluating the University of California’s systemwide research portfolio, recommended eliminating several programs it deemed unworthy of UC funds. According to Faber, cutting these programs would release $11 million from the budget, some of which could be used to support Lick.

    “They know there’s more money going to some other things, and they think, ‘Well, they should get it’ — but so do other people,” Dorr said. “It’s all over the place — the legitimate needs, the recognition that there’s money available to some degree and the desire that that money be used to whatever is closest to wherever your heart is.”

    In addition, Beckwith said such assessments are irrelevant in light of the UCO Board’s “very clear” decision to scrap Lick in favor of the new Thirty Meter Telescope and Keck Observatory.

    “As I understand, regardless of the amount of money we have for astronomy, (the UCO Board) feels the priority is not to put the money into Lick but to put the money into other facilities,” Beckwith said. “And if they had more money, they’d put more money into those facilities … They believe the time has come to transition Lick, so their belief is astronomy will do better if we put our money into the newer facilities.”

    But astronomers across the system, who argue Lick is in fact a crucial part of UC astronomy research, would strongly disagree.

    The laser beam used for adaptive optics exits the dome of Lick Observatory’s Shane Telescope. Graduate students have the opportunity to conduct research at Lick using such resources.

    Pillars of research

    In 2021, the Thirty Meter Telescope will open on the summit of Mauna Kea, offering unprecedented glimpses into the beginning of the universe. The telescope will eventually be the most powerful in the world, and ensuring its success is the number-one priority among UC astronomers.

    But Ian McLean, founder and director of the UCLA Infrared lab, where many of the instruments for Keck are developed, noted Lick is integral to that very effort. The smaller telescopes at Lick, he said, are where the instruments and technologies for larger telescopes such as the Thirty Meter are first tested and perfected.

    McLean — whose lab competes with Lick for funds — explained that though telescopes collect light, it is the instrumentation at the focus of a telescope that creates the science output and will keep telescopes state-of-the-art in perpetuity. Moving forward, the UC Office of the President plans to divert much of Lick’s money to instrumentation efforts for Keck and TMT.

    For many, this plan seems both clumsy and contradictory.

    “UCOP does not understand technology development for astronomy very well,” said Faber, who is an astronomy professor at UC Santa Cruz. “It’s a process, a continuum … The actions they are taking, first by closing — or threatening to close — Lick and cutting the budget drastically, are a grave threat to this entire system we have so carefully assembled.”

    According to Faber, Lick is currently developing a next-generation adaptive optics system ultimately intended for implementation at the Thirty Meter Telescope.

    “If anyone posits that Lick Observatory is outdated, they’re just wrong,” said Lick support scientist Elinor Gates.

    In 2011, Beckwith organized the UC Astronomy Task Force that conducted a poll among UC faculty to establish priorities for UC astronomy and astrophysics investments. Keck and the Thirty Meter were ranked top priority. In third place was instrumentation and adaptive optics labs, and significantly below that was Lick.

    Filippenko called the ranking biased because of the survey’s exclusion of graduate students: Lick’s primary users. Still, as a lower priority for UC faculty, the Astronomy Task Force suggested exploring alternate funding models to reduce operating costs at Lick.

    “Any such cost savings should go toward funding instruments for Keck and TMT so vitally needed,” wrote the Astronomy Task Force.

    From here, the controversy engulfing Lick seems to be rooted in opposing interpretations of that recommendation.

    The UCO Board cites the Astronomy Task Force report as one of the main qualifiers behind their recommendation to cut all funds for Lick.

    “Accordingly, all cost savings resulting from the repurposing of Lick should be used to support the development of instruments for Keck and TMT,” the board wrote.

    But Illingworth argues the lower ranking was not meant to preclude Lick from receiving university funds but to establish its lessened portion of the budget.

    “The priorities mean that’s where you place your emphasis, but you don’t kill things — that’s another decision altogether.” — Garth Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy

    The budget for UC astronomy is about $21 million a year — about $13 million of which funds the UC’s share in Keck. Lick’s operating budget, roughly $1.3 million, accounts for about 6 percent of the total astronomy budget.

    “It’s an absolute bargain,” said Illingworth, who hasn’t used Lick for 15 years because of his particular field of astronomy but supports it because of what he calls a systemwide responsibility. “The priorities mean that’s where you place your emphasis, but you don’t kill things — that’s another decision altogether.”

    According to Dorr, the only way Lick could continue receiving university funds after 2018 would be if astronomers provide for it within UCO’s budget by reducing support for Keck.

    Dorr doesn’t believe that will happen, and the astronomers know it won’t.

    Paul Lynam operates the dome of the Shane 3 Meter Telescope at Lick Observatory. Photo: Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

    A self-fulfilling prophecy

    The Office of the President has reiterated that it “does not plan to close Lick at this time.” Rather, it is looking to “develop and implement a funding model that will shift Lick’s operations to alternative fund sources.”

    To determine a final transition path for the observatory, the UC Office of the President has embarked on a “Lick Transition Study Project,” collaborating loosely with the Lick Observatory Council, which oversees the philanthropic group Friends of Lick Observatory.

    But Robert Kibrick, a member of the council, says members remain in the dark on the transition study’s progress, and administrators have taken no concrete steps to secure outside funds.

    Intrinsic to astronomers’ various grievances is what they perceive as a lack of transparency or earnestness on the part of Napolitano’s administration as a potential crisis awaits Lick Observatory.

    “They say despite this very clear intent to terminate systemwide funding by 2018, UC has no plan to close Lick,” said Kibrick. “What happens if we get to July 2018, systemwide funds drop to zero, and there are not adequate alternate funds? What happens then? What do we do?”

    What will happen if alternative funding can’t be found?

    “I don’t think we know that,” Beckwith said. “That’s five years ahead.”

    This month, though, five turns to four. And as the 2016 ramp-down looms, Faber says a chilling effect has already taken hold: Faculty members have already gone on to greener pastures.

    “What happens if we get to July 2018, systemwide funds drop to zero, and there are not adequate alternate funds?” — Robert Kibrick, a member of the Lick Observatory Council
    It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, she says.

    “You say Lick is not important, we’re going to close it — it becomes unimportant because people think it’s going to be closed,” Faber said.

    Filippenko, president of the Lick Observatory Council, said the university’s actions have in fact undermined astronomers’ fundraising efforts, as potential business partners hesitate to invest in an observatory that risks closure and has been deemed unimportant by the university.

    Former UCO director and UC Santa Cruz astronomy professor Michael Bolte says if Napolitano could just meet fundraisers halfway, kicking in something like $750,000, astronomers would be better equipped to find matching funds.

    Dorr and Beckwith, however, say this is not likely.

    “What they want is (that) we provide them with more money,” said Dorr. “They don’t want it that they handle it themselves. The Office of the President is very unlikely to just say, ‘OK, you want it, and it costs a million more dollars, so here’s a million more dollars.’ That’s very unlikely to happen.”

    Lick Observatory’s recently commissioned Automated Planet Finder, which leads a hunt for exoplanets that could potentially harbor Life. Photo: Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/Staff

    In the national spotlight

    The crusade for Lick has caught national attention. Earlier this year, nine members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to Napolitano urging her to reconsider, saying it was “short-sighted to pinch pennies by shutting down this exemplary facility.”

    But Napolitano’s response, ghostwritten by Beckwith, displays numerous errors of fact that Filippenko says glaringly misrepresent the observatory.

    See the full article here.

    [You can help save Lick. Lick is valuable beyond its scientific viability. Lick is valuable for education of young students in middle and high school. Lick is valuable for STEM. Lick is valuable for showing the merits of a career in science to women. Please visit Friends of Lick, join and donate. No matter what the University decides, Lick will need outside financial support from people who love science if it is to remain viable. I have so far donated US$150 for Friends of Lick. Every little bit will help.]

    The Daily Californian is an independent, student-run newspaper published by the Independent Berkeley Students Publishing Company, Inc. The newspaper serves the UC Berkeley campus and its surrounding community, publishing Monday through Friday during the academic year and twice a week during the summer. Established in 1871, The Daily Californian is one of the oldest newspapers on the West Coast and one of the oldest college newspapers in the country. Daily Cal staffers have the unique opportunity of gaining daily metro news experience in the lively city of Berkeley. The newspaper has consistently covered the city and its institutions since its establishment, allowing student journalists to report on campus as well as city news. The Daily Cal also operates Best of Berkeley, a city guide and local arts Web site for the city of Berkeley.

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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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