From: Sarah Scoles, Wired
Published February 9, 2017 08:34 AM

Earth's Best Defense Against Killer Asteroids Needs Cash

Ed Rivero-Valentin grew up in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, less than 15 minutes away from the jungle home of a 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope. When he was four or five, his parents brought him to the observatory for the first time. He saw the telescope’s mesh dish, resting inside a huge sinkhole in the soft rock formations that shape the region. If he had walked around the Arecibo radio telescope’s dish, he would have clocked more than a mile.

The young Rivera-Valentin was awed. “I worked the rest of the time to make sure I would be able to do astronomy,” he says. He came to the mainland for school and a postdoc but returned for his first permanent job, at the observatory, in 2014.

But just a few years after Rivera-Valentin’s homecoming, the telescope is in jeopardy. The National Science Foundationwants to cut back its Arecibo expenditures, from around $8 million to $2 million a year.

That’s not just a problem for astronomers like Rivera-Valentin. It is a problem for civilization. Because with the telescope that has shaped his life, Rivera-Valentin is trying to save yours. Together with a cadre of other planetary scientists, he sends radio waves flying from Puerto Rico toward asteroids that venture near Earth. Sometimes too near. Sometimes so near they kill the dinosaurs. “It’s not that different from having a super high-powered version of the radar gun that police have,” says Patrick Taylor, Arecibo’s lead radar scientist. But instead of aiming that gun at your Kia, they aim it at a ragged rock in space.

Read more at Wired

Photo credit: H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF via Wikimedia Commons

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