Subject: DPS Mailing #06-34: NAIC on Arecibo; DPS Education Committee; ...
November 29th 2006
1) NAIC Statement on the Arecibo Planetary Radar
2) DPS Education Committee members wanted
3) Job announcements
4) Five upcoming workshops and meetings
The following statement about the NSF Senior Review's implicaations
for the Arecibo planetary radar facility has been issued by Robert
L. Brown, Director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center
(NAIC). The text of the letter can also be found at
Arecibo Planetary Radar:
Consequences of the NSF Astronomy Senior Review Recommendations
The Arecibo planetary radar is a unique facility whose achievements
are well-known to planetary scientists and the public. There is only
one other active planetary radar in the world, the NASA Goldstone Deep
Space Tracking Station, which provides a complementary capability to
Arecibo. The Goldstone antenna is fully steerable, but it is only 4
percent as sensitive as the Arecibo planetary radar; hence it can only
observe objects that are much larger than those that are routine
targets for Arecibo.
The NSF Astronomy Senior Review report includes only a single, brief,
reference to the Arecibo planetary radar. Perhaps because of the
composition of the Senior Review (SR) panel, its description of the
Arecibo planetary radar remarkably neglects to mention adequately the
unique current capabilities of Arecibo for radar studies of the Solar
System. The report itself mentions only the discoveries of several
decades ago, ignoring the long list of recent achievements given, for
example, in the NAIC report to the SR. We find this particularly
unfortunate considering the recent publicity surrounding the
discoveries at Arecibo about the lack of water-ice on the Moon
reported in the Oct. 19th issue of Nature and the extraordinary
dynamics of the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 1999 KW4, which is the cover
article in the November 24, 2006 edition of Science. In addition
there are recent studies of Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and its satellites,
Saturn's rings and satellites and both main-belt and near-Earth
asteroids. NSF astronomy is receiving wide praise for its support of
the unique Arecibo planetary radar as a consequence of publications
such as these.
Regrettably, the failure of the SR to appreciate the critical role of
the Arecibo planetary radar may lead to its demise. The SR report
(6.2.1, p. 62) states "The SR was advised that a minimum feasible
operating cost for Arecibo is $8M, even when it is largely working in
survey mode." The $8M budgetary number does not include any support
for the planetary radar program: the $8M operating budget applies, as
the report notes, when the Observatory is doing astronomical surveys.
The operating cost of the Arecibo planetary radar is $1M per year, a
figure NAIC supplied to the SR. Therefore, the SR recommendation that
the funding for NAIC be decreased to $8M, together with the SR
recommendation that the NAIC astronomy program focus on survey
programs, is a recommendation to terminate the Arecibo planetary radar
program. The community should have been told this explicitly in the
SR report if indeed that was the intended conclusion of the SR panel.
Cornell/NAIC has expressed its concern about the lack of clarity, and
candor, in the SR report regarding the Arecibo planetary radar
Cornell/NAIC fully supports the goals of the Senior Review and shares
in the view that science is a forward-looking enterprise; the
construction of new research facilities is essential to future
progress. One of the telescopes NSF Astronomy is seeking to build
from funds reprogrammed from NAIC and the other national centers is
the ~$200M Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a telescope with
two main scientific objectives: (1) to compile a complete sample of
distant galaxies as a probe of dark energy, and (2) to compile a
complete sample of NEOs with special emphasis on Earth-crossing
objects. It is NAIC’s position that the Arecibo planetary radar is a
necessary adjunct to the LSST NEO mission requirement owing to its
unrivaled capability to characterize the physical properties of NEOs
and to determine their orbital parameters with sufficient precision
that the few Earth-threatening objects can be reliably identified from
among the enormous sample of NEOs LSST will discover and catalog.
It is the position of Cornell/NAIC that the Senior Review failed to
understand the role of the Arecibo Planetary Radar and, in particular,
it failed to appreciate that the two primary SR recommendations for
NAIC had the effect of terminating this critical program. This error
can be rectified by revising the SR recommendation for NAIC from “the
SR recommends a decrease in AST support for Arecibo to $8M …”, to “the
SR recommends a decrease in AST support for Arecibo to $9M…” The
additional $1M per year in NAIC operations funding preserves the
operation of the Arecibo planetary radar without violating the
apparent SR objective of diminishing NAIC funding overall. The $1M
per year in incremental operations funding is one-half of one-percent
of the current AST annual budget. NAIC believes this change should be
a key element in the AST implementation plan for the Senior Review
recommendations. We have communicated precisely this suggestion to
Wayne van Citters, the AST division director.
NAIC will continue operating the Arecibo Planetary Radar until the end
of FY2007. Operation beyond this date depends on the availability of
Wayne is requesting community input to help in developing the AST
implementation plan for the Senior Review recommendations. See
Comments can be emailed to astsenior-review @  
or mailed to Wayne:
Dr. G. Wayne van Citters
NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences
4201 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22230
The DPS Committee is looking for interested members to serve on the
DPS Education Subcommittee. The Subcommittee, chaired by the DPS
Education Officer, will; define goals and create strategies for DPS
education, actively carry out education projects, and work with other DPS
members to involve them in education efforts and/or help them
expand and leverage their existing efforts. The Committee is seeking
members with a range of experience in education to serve one to three
year terms. DPS Members who are interested in serving on the Education
Subcommittee, or who would like more information, should contact the
Education Officer, Jennifer Grier (jgrier @ by December 11th
1) The Boulder office of the Southwest Research Institute currently
has 4 postdoc positions open for planetary postdocs with expertise
relevant to Mars Express, Pluto New Horizons, Rosetta, and the HST
Cosmic Origins Spectrograph science. Interested parties should contact
Executive Director for the Boulder office, Alan Stern
1) Workshop on Herschel Key Project Opportunities.
ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, 20-21 February 2007
2) Dusty Visions - New Venues in Dust Research. Heidelberg, Germany,
April 10-13, 2007
Organized by Eberhard Gruen
Abstract deadline March 1st 2007
3) A Conference On "Extreme Solar Systems", Santorini, Greece,
June 25-29, 2007
4) 7th International Conference on Mars, CalTech, Pasadena, CA,
July 9-13, 2007.
5) A special session on the origin of water on Earth at the Goldschmidt
Conference, Cologne, Germany, August 19-24 2007
Organized by Stephen Mojzsis and Alessandro Morbidelli
Send submissions (no attachments, please) to:
John Spencer, DPS Secretary (spencer (at)