Science slowdown

Recent federal shutdown just the latest shock in a deepening funding crisis

3:01pm, November 15, 2013
Green Bank radio telescope

DATA BRAKES  The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia was idled by October’s government shutdown, which scientists say exacerbated an already difficult funding situation.

For two weeks in October, the largest maneuverable radio telescope in the world stood still. With the federal government shut down and the employees who control the Green Bank telescope on furlough, the research of astronomers around the world came to an abrupt halt.

Astronomers Sheila Kannappan and David Stark of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had been allotted 80 hours of observing time on the gigantic West Virginia telescope to study how gases flow between galaxies and fuel star formation. Now it’s unclear when, if ever, they will get to complete those observations.

Astronomers are used to working around things like bad weather and tight schedules, Stark says. But being waylaid by politics felt especially irritating.

“You fight tooth and nail for this time,” he says. “It’s just adding insult to injury.”

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