To the editor:
We appreciate the attention The Spectator has given recently to the issue of the Northwest Corner science building interfering with normal functions of the astronomy department and the astrophysics lab on the roof of Pupin Hall, and we take this opportunity to state our point of view on the issue.
People often think that astronomy is impossible from the heart of Manhattan, but we have found many worthwhile things to do that require access to the Pupin roof. Astronomers need the sky:
1) We educate about 200 tuition-paying Columbia undergraduates per year on a regular basis with observing sessions, and many more occasionally.
2) We have an extensive public outreach program centered on the Pupin rooftop observation with some 6,000 guests per year. This is a unique resource for New York City.
3) There are at least four federally funded research programs on the Pupin roof requiring unfettered access to the sky.
4) Our funding from NASA requires that we tie our research to public programs, like those on the Pupin roof. Rooftop programs are also a central part of our fundraising activities.
To these rooftop programs, astronomy/astrophysics staff, student, and faculty devote about 1,000 person-hours per year.
The new building next door has the unfortunate impact of blocking our view of the western horizon, where, among other objects, the evening planets are best viewed by the public using our telescopes. The lights from the building interfere with our instruments and ruin the night vision of observers. Furthermore, the building interferes with radio from GPS and other sources for our experiments.
We need a dark site nearby to replace the compromised roof of Pupin. We sincerely hope that this can be found, either on the new building, or some tall, relatively dark site next to Pupin, to which the public can be given access without problem. We invite the relevant parties at the University to work with us towards an optimal solution for all on a timely basis.
Dr. Arlin Crotts, professor of astronomy
Cameron Hummels, Ph.D. candidate, NASA student ambassador, and public outreach director
Oct. 14, 2009