Things looking down at Lowell Observatory
- In addition to 4.5 feet of snow last week---several buildings collapsed incl. Bookman's with a quarter of a million used books, movies, etc.
Lowell announces layoffs
Story Discussion By DAILY SUN STAFF | Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 5:00 am | (0) Comments
Font Size: Default font size Larger font size Lowell Observatory has laid off three of its 60 employees and reduced the hours of five others.
Officials at the nonprofit Flagstaff institution cited a struggling economy and the need to shift operating resources to the $44 million Discovery Channel Telescope, which will begin preliminary operation in February 2011.
"We are committed to build the finest telescope of its kind, and we will," said Eileen Friel, the observatory's director, in a press release. "But, our endowment has been severely diminished by the recession just as major payments are coming due."
"No one wants a reduction in force and the people we are losing are wonderful. There was no alternative."
In an interview, Deputy Director Jeffrey Hall said the reductions were spread widely among observatory staff. Lowell has a $5 million operating budget, and spending as well as personnel are likely to increase significantly when the telescope is fully operational in about two years.
"We will need to dramatically reposition the institution to support the DCT, and this is the first step," Hall said.
The cutbacks announced Tuesday do affect the public hours of operation at the Steele Visitors Center atop Mars Hill or the center's programs, Hall said.
The new telescope will feature a main mirror more than 13 feet in diameter. Its funding was kicked off with a $10 million seed grant from Discovery Communications and donations from a charitable foundation set up by the Discovery Channel's founder, John Hendricks.
Lowell Observatory is also a major financial contributor, and capital fundraising for the $44 million project continues.
The operating budget for the new telescope, along with instrumentation, will be funded separately, Hall said.
The primary mirror is being polished at the University of Arizona Mirror Lab and is due to be finished in mid-February. The telescope building is in Happy Jack about 40 miles east of Flagstaff, and the mirror will be transported there in the spring when the weather improves, Hall said.
The mirror will be housed temporarily in an auxiliary building at Happy Jack while it is coated with a reflective surface. It will then be mounted in the telescope building, followed in the fall by the arrival of the secondary mirror, which has a diameter of about 4 1/2 feet.
A YEAR OF DEBUGGING
Hall said the first images from the Discovery telescope will be made about a year from now, followed by at least a year of "debugging" -- adjusting and calibrating the mirrors' alignments.
When fully operational, Hall said the DCT will serve scientific as well as educational purposes. Astronomers will use its wide lens for comprehensive surveys of near-Earth objects, and the Discovery Channel has plans to feature it in its worldwide programming.
Hall said he expected Lowell's operating budget to increase significantly once the DCT becomes fully operational, including additional scientific personnel. Currently, Lowell has 19 astronomers on staff, along with postdoctoral fellows, all of whom conduct a wide range of internationally recognized astronomical research.