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Letter to Janet Napolitano, President, University of California - Keep Lick Observatory Open


Location: Washington, DC

February 20, 2014

Janet Napolitano
University of California
1111 Franklin Street
Oakland, CA 94607-5200

Dear President Napolitano,

We write in support of the work of Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, and to encourage you to reconsider the proposal to terminate all University of California funding of the Observatory by 2018. Without this University funding, the telescopes will shutter. This valuable University of California facility still has an important role to play in fundamental astronomical research, training of undergraduate and graduate students, and public outreach and need not succumb to shortsighted budget cutting.

This tremendous scientific facility just celebrated its 125th anniversary. In that time it has revolutionized the design and siting of astronomical observatories. It has made historic cosmological discoveries and has been a source of inspiration and education for countless students and astronomers. But Lick Observatory's time is not passed. It is still an enormously valuable teaching and research tool, providing access to cutting edge research and validation for students and faculty right in the heart of California.

While the Keck Telescopes may be newer, Lick is within 100 miles of five of the ten UC Campuses, and provides in-state access to powerful telescopes for all students and astronomers across the UC system. The proximity of the Observatory adds huge value to the researchers and their students who get hands-on access to a modern astronomical observatory. Lick Observatory performs cutting-edge science at a very reasonable cost. This is thanks to equipment upgrades like the Automated Planet Finder (finished in 2013), which is a key part of the broader search for earth-like planets that might support life; the KAIT telescope, which automatically scans the skies for supernovas to provide timely study of these phenomenal explosions; and the development of astronomical adaptive optics systems, which are now a staple of all large ground-based telescopes. It would be wasteful to squander these investments and capabilities that make Lick a world class observatory.

The collaboration between the Keck telescopes and Lick in developing technology, techniques and students, has made the University of California system a world leader in observational astrophysics. Losing Lick Observatory as a local partner threatens the future competitiveness of the Keck Telescopes and the planned Thirty Meter Telescope project.

While we certainly understand the constraints of tight budgets, it would be short-sighted to pinch pennies by shutting down this exemplary facility. We encourage you to reconsider the plan to phase out UC funding for Lick Observatory. Visit it; see the research that is occurring; speak with the astronomers and students from across UC that are actively performing research at the observatory. Ultimately, we hope it can be preserved to continue its remarkable history and ongoing mission probing the mysteries of our universe and inspiring new generations of California scientists.


Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Susan Davis (CA-53)
Eric Swalwell (CA-15)
Adam B. Schiff (CA-28)

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