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Astronomer: Shutdown Could Waste a Year’s Worth of Work
More than a year’s worth of expensive data used to trace the shape of the Milky Way galaxy could become worthless as a result of today’s closure of U.S.-based radio telescopes because of the government shutdown.
Radio astronomer Mark Reid’s work to map the Milky Way galaxy may be set back a year by the closure of U.S. radio telescopes. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
“Holy cow, this is really bad,” radio astronomer Mark Reid said when informed by ScienceInsider that the telescopes were going offline. “If they don’t operate the telescopes, it could mean a year’s worth of data becomes useless.” And it would be a costly loss, he adds, estimating that the data cost $500,000 to collect.
Reid is a U.S. government employee who works for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like hundreds of thousands of other federal workers, he’s been at home since the shutdown began on Tuesday. Meanwhile, he’s been trying to use some of his time off productively, thinking about his collaborative work with an international team on measuring and mapping the great spiral arms of the Milky Way.
Twice a year, Reid and his colleagues use the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA)—a string of 10 sensitive radio telescopes stretching 8600 kilometers from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands and New England—to help make measurements from Earth to massive gas clouds surrounding about 50 newborn stars in the galaxy. The VLBA measurements, made in the spring and fall, allow the team to calculate distances to the stars and construct a map of the galaxy. The map’s accuracy, however, depends on comparing three sets of VLBA measurements taken over 18 months.ScienceInsider
U.S. Government Researchers Barred from Scientific Conferences
Government researchers are barred from their own labs during the shutdown, and they cannot travel to conferences
Not only are government researchers barred from their own labs during the government shutdown, but they cannot travel anywhere else, either.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who were in San Francisco, Calif., attending a meeting on cytokines found their trips unexpectedly cut short when the government began shutting down at midnight on October 1. As soon as the news broke, NIH officials told the travelling researchers to come back immediately “by any means necessary."
The organizers quickly rescheduled the meeting so that all the NIH employees could give their talks before the agency officially shut down. “They told us giving a talk after that was a federal crime,” says one NIH immunologist who asked that her name not be used, as she is not authorized to speak to the press.