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Saving an Endangered Telescope
by Dr. Bob Lash
President, Friends of the Bracewell Observatory Association

The imminent demolition of a historic radio telescope at Stanford University, consisting of five 60-foot dish antennas built by Professor Ronald Bracewell, has been delayed by the quick action of the Friends of the Bracewell Observatory Association, a group of astronomy enthusiasts who want to rescue and operate the observatory for both academic and public use.

It would be a tragedy for this large scale radio astronomy observatory to be completely demolished simply because dry brush and plant overgrowth at the site was deemed a fire hazard. The brush and debris can be cleared, and our restoration work can bring the observatory back into operation for the benefit of both Stanford University and the public.

The "Stanford Five-Element Radio Telescope" is at the site where radio telescopes first achieved the angular resolution of the human eye (one arcminute), and produced 11 years of daily high resolution maps of the sun in the microwave spectrum.

Friends of the Bracewell Observatory Association is a non-profit organization that includes members of the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA), the Society for Amateur Scientists (SAS), and the SETI League. Their goal is to provide the first hands-on radio telescope system for public use, establish educational programs in amateur radio astronomy, support access to the dishes for special projects by Stanford faculty and students, as well as schools, individuals and amateur groups, and present the history of scientific contributions made at the site.

Stanford's School of Engineering agreed to delay the demolition until after June 30th, 2005 to give the group time to mount a rescue effort, to submit a final plan to Stanford, and to put enough volunteer and financial support in place to make its plan go.

To this end, Friends of the Bracewell Observatory Association is developing a collaborative proposal in conjunction with the Director of Stanford's Space, Telecommunications, and Radio Science Laboratory (STAR Lab) to synergistically combine Stanford academic and research use with its own planned activities. They will support STAR Lab's use of one or more of the dishes to track scientific satellites carrying Stanford-built instrumentation. The proposed public access will conform to any limits that Stanford may deem appropriate.

Thanks to fast responding supporters, the group raised the $20,000 as required by the School of Engineering to stop the imminent demolition, and defer it. In the event the final plan is not accepted by Stanford, the funds would cover the added cost of completing the demolition work at this later date. Should the final proposal be approved, these funds will be available through STAR Lab in support of the site.

For those interested in helping with this rescue effort (examples include publicity, fundraising, contributions, dish mechanical restoration, feeds, receivers, building restoration, historical document preservation, scanning, and mentoring) please contact Bob Lash at bob @

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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