Arecibo gets a backer to keep it running


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The National Science Foundation has found at least one backer to pick up the majority of the cost for running the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, thus keeping it operational.

For about a decade, the National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory and supplies about two-thirds of its $12 million budget, had been mulling downsizing or even shuttering the telescope to free up funds for other projects. Instead, the NSF will continue scientific operations at the facility in collaboration with an unnamed partner organization, according to a Record of Decision signed this week.

Arecibo sustained $4 million to $8 million in damage during the hurricane, according James Ulvestad, acting assistant director for the agency’s mathematical and physical sciences directorate. Some scientists worried that would weaken the case for keeping the observatory operational.

But Ulvestad said the agency’s Record of Decision reflects that it has received viable partnership proposals from one or more collaborators — though he would not provide details about those proposals. This announcement allows the NSF to move forward with negotiations on a new management contract.

Under the new plan, the agency will reduce its annual contribution to the observatory from about $8.2 million to $2 million over the next five years. It is also committed to funding any repairs required to restore Arecibo to its pre-hurricane condition, Ulvestad said.

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