Five 60-foot dish antennas at Stanford, known as the Bracewell Observatory, are about to be demolished by the school. Bob Lash organized the Friends of the Bracewell Observatory Association to help rescue the dishes and he’s done all that he can do to persuade Stanford to stop the demolition. Yet it could happen any day, at the whim of the Dean of Engineering for Stanford, Jim Plummer. Stanford has obtained the demolition permit from Santa Clara County Commissioners.
The Bracewell Observatory is named for Professor Ronald Bracewell, a father of radio astronomy, who created this site and built the dishes that have been used to monitor sunspot activity and measure the speed and direction of our solar system. Since federal support for the Observatory was cut-off and redirected to other sites, the dishes have been idle. Now the brush growing up around them is considered a fire hazard and has served as an excuse to remove them. Bob Lash thinks they offer a wonderful opportunity for citizen science, a site that could be used by Stanford, high school students and the public in a variety of ways, including over the Internet.
Bob put together a team of volunteers who offer to maintain and repair the dishes. He’s gotten support from NASA/JPL for use of the Observatory in its Deep Space Network with “little or no cost” to Stanford. This observatory has historical value as well, and there are efforts to get it recognized as a State Historical Site. Yet Stanford has not responded (or it has responded in the way that bureaucratic institutions do, by doing nothing except digging in.) Bob’s only hope is to get as many people, especially in the Bay Area, to demonstrate support for his plan and to get Stanford to back down. He’s put up a poll at his “Friends” website where you can vote to halt the demolition and show that there is broad public support.
Saving these dishes should matter to all of us. They can be part of a new world of “open-source hardware” infrastructure that can be managed and shared, just as open-source software projects are done today. The promise of the benefits that might come from having this infrastructure available for citizen science should weigh more heavily in Stanford’s consideration of this issue. Show your support and help Bob persuade Stanford to do the right thing. We’ll be following what happens next and keep you informed of any new developments – Thanks Dale! Link.