Large Synoptic Survey Telescope gets big funding boost from Republicans and the NSF’s and AAASA’s ungrateful responses.
Guest commentary by David Middleton
Back in March, Eric Worrall authored a nice post about “climate scientists running for congress.” Eric’s subject was a really goofy Clean Technica article about Joseph Kopser, touted as some sort of climate scientist. Clean Technica even spelled his name wrong (Kosper instead of Kopser). Yesterday, Mr. Kopser won the runoff election against Mary Wilson, a former math teacher and flaming left-wing activist:
IN TEXAS RUNOFF, NATIONAL DEMOCRATS BACK FORMER REPUBLICAN OVER GRASSROOTS MATH TEACHER
May 21 2018
In December, Kopser earned the endorsement of Congress’s No. 2 Democrat, Maryland’s Rep. Steny Hoyer. He’s backed by the Democratic-leaning Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and, having spent over two decades in the U.S. military, he successfully won the backing of Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton’s Serve America PAC. VoteVets is backing him for similar reasons.
Wilson, meanwhile, is supported by a number of national and local progressive organizations, including Justice Democrats, Our Revolution Central Texas, and the Stonewall Democrats of Austin. The Austin Chronicle issued no endorsement in the runoff between the two candidates, with its editorial board split on the issue.
Kopser strikes me as a bit of a DINO (Democrat In Name Only) and this might keep him within 15 points of the Republican candidate for TX-21, Sen. Ted Cruz’s former Chief of Staff Chip Roy. This seat is being vacated by Lamar Smith’s retirement. Lamar Smith is Public Enemy #1 to most Warmunists.
Back in February, the American Association for the Advancement of Science of America (AAASA) was veritably giddy about the prospects March for Science taking over Congress. I wonder how giddy they are now?
|Candidate||District||Primary Results||Science Field||Cook PVI|
|Jess Phoenix||D||CA-25||5-Jun||Geology PhD Student||Even|
|Phil Janowicz||D||CA-39||Dropped out||Former Chemistry Professor||Even|
|Randy Wadkins||D||MS-01||W (unopposed)||Biochemistry Professor||R +16|
|Elaine DiMasi||D||NY-01||26-Jun||Govt. Physicist||R +5|
|Patrick Madden||D||NY-22||Dropped out||Computer Science Professor||R +6|
|Molly Sheehan||D||PA-05||L||Bioengineering Postdoc.||NA|
|Jason Westin||D||TX-07||L||Oncologist||R +7|
|Joseph Kopser||D||TX-21||W||Engineer/Entreperneur||R +10|
|Jon Powell||D||TX-36||L||Retired Geologist||R +26|
Funny how an oncologist and an epidemiologist are counted as “scientists,” but the 15 physicians serving in the 115th Congress aren’t… Probably because 13 of them are Republicans.
Regarding the primary results… Not a stellar record for Science! (as in, “She blinded me with”)…
|Lost Democrat Primary||4|
|Primary elections in June||2|
|Won Democrat Primary||2|
2 wins, 6 losses and 2 games yet to play… And the 2 wins were in districts commonly won by Republicans by double digits. How, exactly, 10 scientist-candidates were going to transform a 435 member Congress (535 if you count the Senate) in 2018 is certainly a mystery… Particularly since none of them would take office until 2019 if they won.
But, such is the nature of the AAASA’s total departure from science into the world of left-wing politics.
Regardless of how her research turns out, she’ll probably have more control over the results than over the forces that shaped her campaign. The biggest wild card was a remapping of the state’s 18 congressional districts after a court threw out a version drawn by the Republican-led state legislature. The February realignment meant Sheehan had to abandon months of building support in one district—the old seventh—and start fresh in the new fifth district. For a novice candidate without the backing of party regulars, a 12-week campaign proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
Ding’s was a whirlwind campaign launched in late February after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voided the current boundaries for the state’s 18 congressional districts and substituted its own map.
The folks at AAASA love to harp about Pennsylvania’s “Republican-led state legislature” having drawn congressional districts that favored Republican candidates. However, they never fail to include “Democrat-dominated” when praising the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voiding the old boundaries for the state’s 18 congressional districts and substituting its own map… which blatantly favors Democrat candidates.
Speaking of AAASA harping…
Surprise! House spending panel gives NSF far more money for telescope than it requested
By Jeffrey Mervis May. 21, 2018 , 2:50 PM
The LSST will be the ultimate survey telescope, mapping the entire available sky every 3 days and logging anything that moves, changes, or disappears. Construction began in 2014, and NSF has a 9-year timeline to spread out the $473 million that it expects to spend. (The Department of Energy is putting up $168 million for a key component, the world’s biggest digital camera. Its 3200-megapixel detector will be able to gather 20 terabytes of multicolored imaging data every night.)
A “strange” surprise
NSF’s timeline assumed Congress will provide $49 million in 2019 and a total of $92 million over the next 3 years to finish construction. Instead, Culberson put $123 million into the 2019 bill—a $74 million jump.
“We didn’t request this. We were budgeted for $49 million and expected that amount,” says astrophysicist Steven Kahn, director of the LSST, which has its headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. “It never hurts to have more money in hand. But it won’t speed things up much, because we’re not cash-limited.”
“I don’t totally understand it,” Kahn adds. “It’s a strange thing. We’ve never seen it before.”
NSF officials are equally baffled. “We don’t know the intent of the report language and I don’t think we can speculate,” admits James Ulvestad, NSF’s chief officer for research facilities in Alexandria, Virginia, and a former head of the astronomy division.
Culberson says it shouldn’t be a mystery. “The whole point of this is to ensure that these critical scientific instruments are brought online as quickly as possible,” he says.
A simple “thank you” would have sufficed.
As Alex Berezow very eloquently puts it…
NSF Gets Huge Funding Boost, Yet Won’t Thank A Republican Supporter
By Alex Berezow — May 22, 2018
Some scientists, however, appear incapable of normal human emotion. Science magazine reports that when a Congressman, who wanted to see a telescope project completed faster, boosted its anticipated funding in 2019 from $49 million to $123 million, the National Science Foundation (NSF) saw a conspiracy: “We don’t know the intent of the report language and I don’t think we can speculate.” The director of the project said, “It’s a strange thing. We’ve never seen it before.”
Do you know what I’ve never seen before? Scientists that ungrateful.
The NSF Looks a Gift Horse in the Mouth
These responses are all the more baffling given that this particular Congressman has done this before. He has used his power and influence to funnel money to science projects that he likes. For instance, he wants NASA to get to Jupiter’s moon Europa faster, so he gave them more money than they requested.
And he isn’t shy about his shilling for science. The same article in Science quotes the politician as saying that he hopes “everyone involved [will] step up the pace so they can produce science as soon as possible.”
Even better, he hates the politicization of science. The following quote by the Congressman is pure music to our ears:
“I think it’s critical to protect NSF—and the space program and scientific inquiry in general—from political pressure from either the right or the left… Science should never be politicized. Scientists should always follow the facts, and as a policymaker, I need accurate, unbiased data to make good decisions.”
Let’s review. We have a Congressman who:
- Appreciates knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
- Understands the importance of funding basic scientific inquiry.
- Refuses to allow science to be influenced by political pressures from the left or right.
- Wants more science right now.
- Puts his money where his mouth is and funds science to a greater extent than what was requested by scientists themselves.
Yet, the telescope director’s response to the boost in funding was that “it won’t speed things up much, because we’re not cash-limited.”
How about this response, instead: “Wow! We are absolutely speechless by this generous show of support from Congress. Thank you!” Or, “We may not be able to get this telescope built faster, but we will put these extra funds to good use to ensure that this project delivers far more than we ever dreamed.”
What explains this bizarre, muted response from the telescope director and NSF? Could it be that the Congressman in question, John Culberson, is a Republican? Given the blatantly political nature of movements like March for Science, it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion on how a politician’s lavish and vocal support of basic science can be met with such ingratitude.
The critical scientific instrument in question is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
The LSST is a new kind of telescope. Currently under construction in Chile, it is being built to rapidly survey the night-time sky. Compact and nimble, the LSST will move quickly between images, yet its large mirror and large field of view—almost 10 square degrees of sky, or 40 times the size of the full moon—work together to deliver more light from faint astronomical objects than any optical telescope in the world.
From its mountaintop site in the foothills of the Andes, the LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images each night with its 3.2 billion-pixel camera, recording the entire visible sky twice each week. Each patch of sky it images will be visited 1000 times during the survey. With a light-gathering power equal to a 6.7-m diameter primary mirror, each of its 30-second observations will be able to detect objects 10 million times fainter than visible with the human eye. A powerful data system will compare new with previous images to detect changes in brightness and position of objects as big as far-distant galaxy clusters and as small as near-by asteroids.
It will even be used to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids—asteroids that might impact the Earth and cause significant damage.
Named the highest priority for ground-based astronomy in the 2010 Decadal Survey, the LSST project formally began construction in July 2014.
Of all the things that my tax dollars get spent on, the LSST is at least as worthwhile as a couple of Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carriers…
Why will the LSST look for NEOs?
December, 2005, Congress directed NASA to implement a near-Earth object (NEO) survey that would catalog 90% of potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs). The objectives of the George E. Brown, Jr. NEO Survey Act (Public Law No. 109-155) are to detect, track, catalog, and characterize the physical characteristics of PHAs equal to or larger than 140 meters in diameter that come within 1.3 astronomical units (AU) or less from the Sun at closest approach. The Act was signed into law by President Bush on December 30, 2005.
Ground-based optical surveys are the most efficient tool for comprehensive NEO detection, determination of their orbits and subsequent tracking. A survey capable of extending these tasks to PHAs with diameters as small as 140 meters, as mandated by Congress, requires a large telescope, a large camera, and a sophisticated data acquisition, processing and dissemination system.
Why is a large telescope required?
A typical 140-meter object positioned in the main asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter, at a distance of 2.5 AU from the Sun) appears very faint. Despite their name, NEOs are typically found far from Earth. In principle, very faint objects can be detected using long exposures, but for objects moving as fast as typical NEOs, the so-called trailing losses limit the exposure time to about 30 seconds. In order to detect 140-meter NEOs in the main asteroid belt in 30 seconds, an eight-meter class telescope is required. In fact, some of these asteroids move so fast on the sky that 15 seconds is the maximum exposure; LSST will take pairs of 15 seconds exposures at each sky position.
Why is a large camera required?
Surveying the whole observable sky at least once every three nights, with two observations per night, requires not only a large telescope, but a large camera. At the time of its completion, the 3.2 gigapixel LSST camera will be the largest astronomical camera in the world. With the joined resources of its mirror and camera, the LSST will be able to reach the mandated high-NEO completeness.
Why is a complex data processing system required?
With its 3.2 gigapixel camera obtaining images every 30 seconds, the data rate will be about 20 terabytes (equivalent to the entire Congressional Library) per night. Not only that this is a huge data rate, but the data have to be processed and disseminated in real time, and with exquisite accuracy. It is estimated that the LSST Data Management System will incorporate several million lines of state-of-the-art computer code.
How would the LSST find NEOs?
The LSST system will be sited at Cerro Pachon in northern Chile, with the first light anticipated by the end of the decade. In a continuous observing campaign, LSST will cover the entire available sky every three nights, with two observations per night. Over the proposed survey lifetime of 10 years, each sky location would be observed about 1000 times.
Two NEO detections in a single night are required to estimate its motion, so that its future, or past, detections can be linked together. This linkage has to be exceedingly robust because the near-Earth objects will be outnumbered one to one hundred by main-belt asteroids which present no threat to Earth. By reliably linking detections on multiple nights, the NEO’s orbit can be reconstructed and used to compute its impact probability with Earth.
The high-fidelity simulations of the LSST baseline observing campaign demonstrate that it will discover and catalog 80–90% of potentially hazardous asteroids larger than 140 meters, with a median of 40 nights of observations per object. Simulations strongly suggest that with an achievable optimization of baseline strategy, LSST will be able to reach the goal mandated by Congress.
Why is the LSST the best option for finding NEOs?
The LSST system is the only proposed astronomical facility that can detect 140-meter objects in the main asteroid belt in less than a minute. The project reaches the threshold where different science drivers and different agencies (NSF, DOE and NASA) can work together to efficiently achieve seemingly disjoint, but deeply connected, goals.
Not even six months ago, the “Resistance” was babbling about a government shutdown leaving Earth vulnerable to asteroid attacks… Now they’re harping about Republicans giving them too much money to ward off asteroid attacks.
Note: If you’re not a fan of the movie Dodgeball, you probably don’t get why I refer to the AAAS as the AAASA…. So…
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