The astronomer

  • Peter Strittmatter

    Courtesy University of Arizona

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Making a mountain into a starbase.

"Observatories are usually exceedingly benign places. They become animal refuges ..."

Peter Strittmatter, a British astronomer with a Ph.D. from Cambridge, became director of the U of A's Steward Observatory in 1975, an appointment he recognized as "a great career opportunity." If the Large Binocular Telescope isn't built, Strittmatter warns:

"I'd say the future of astronomy would be detrimentally affected, which is far more important than my career ... The university is in the top half-dozen or so astronomy facilities in the country. The Large Binocular Telescope will have angular resolution of 3-D sharpness on faint objects. It will be unique in that capability in the world ...

"The area involved (on Mount Graham) in the first phase is 8.6 acres or less. Most people can't find (the site), and when they do, their first reaction is either 'Where's the rest of it?' or 'Is this all?'

"I see people simply inventing reasons to object against the observatory. I don't think you can put your hands on any documentation - as opposed to assertions - that actually demonstrated a problem. The National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act serve purposes which I fully support. Unfortunately both laws tend to be used or misused by people who are trying to achieve certain land-use decisions ... The thing was studied into the ground.

"(The opponents' objections) are hard to follow rationally, because observatories are usually exceedingly benign places. They become animal refuges.

"I think all through this we've been very willing to change. The only thing we can't accommodate is no observatory."

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