A few weeks ago, a previously unknown-to-me solar observatory in Sunspot, AZ was shut down and evacuated by FBI action. Rumors circulated.
Turns out their reason was that an Internet crime had happened at a related IP address. Something about child porn. Troublesome to hear, but whatever. That’s just an appendix.
The backstory behind the decline of Sunspot’s solar observatory, though, had been years in the making. It had served its mission. The town started dying when the National Science Foundation pulled its funding, and the National Solar Observatory moved its headquarters to Boulder, CO.
It’s a strange tale, but this is a spotlight on the tale of many of the great scientific projects that were started in the post-war era: drying funds and automation means there’s no need for all the big day-to-day social systems that were required to support the hard-science work. Communities built to serve the facility are superfluous.
Now everything is remote telemetry fed straight to the scientist’s inbox, and the scientists of today never need to touch their own instruments. And, in my eyes, that’s a travesty.