McDonald Observatory Thanks Congressman Henry Bonilla for Vital Funding of NESSI Project

19 October 2006

ALPINE, Texas — Representatives of McDonald Observatory will thank Congressman Henry Bonilla for his support of continued funding for the NESSI project in the Department of Defense appropriation recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on September 9, 2006. They will join Representative Bonilla for an announcement at Sul Ross University in Alpine at 4:30 p.m., Monday, October 23. NESSI, which stands for Near Earth Space Surveillance Initiative, is a collaboration among The University of Texas at Austin, The University of New Mexico, and the U.S. Air Force. The multi-year program involves moving a 1.8-meter telescope, called CTI-II, from New Mexico to McDonald Observatory. In addition, the NESSI project funds significant improvements to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Since the first appropriation in 2003, Congress has provided $9.45 million for the NESSI project, including the most recent appropriation, for fiscal 2007, which totals $1.6 million. David Lambert, Director of McDonald Observatory, says, “Representative Henry Bonilla is a strong advocate for science in his district and throughout Texas. With the funding provided by Congress for the NESSI project, we are working with our New Mexico partners to complete installing CTI at McDonald Observatory. In addition, we’ll make important changes to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope that will keep it performing frontier science in astronomy.” "The McDonald Observatory is making important discoveries that will benefit all of us here on earth. This new telescope will provide capabilities that increase our understanding and ultimately improve our lives," said Congressman Bonilla. "I am proud that my position on the House Appropriations Committee enables me to secure funding for valuable projects such as the Near Earth Space Surveillance Initiative." Changes to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) funded from the Congressional appropriation for NESSI will include retrofitting the telescope with a new corrector assembly to increase its field of view from approximately 5 arc minutes to approximately 20-25 arc minutes. “Increasing the field of view of the HET by a factor of five is a major undertaking that will greatly strengthen what is already one of the most powerful telescopes in the world,” says David Lambert. The wider field of view will enable Texas astronomers to undertake the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), which will use the spectroscopic signatures of more than 1 million separate galaxy to understand the history and nature of the mysterious force called “dark energy.” Called the number question facing science today, dark energy constitutes more than 70 percent of the known Universe. It is causing the Universe to accelerate as it expands, and it can’t yet be explained by modern physics. Constructed in 1997, the HET is currently ranked as the third-largest in the world. It has a segmented primary mirror that is 11 meters wide; of that, the maximum usable area is 9.2 meters. Only the two Keck Telescopes in Hawaii, each with an effective aperture of 10 meters, are larger. The HET is owned by a consortium that includes The University of Texas at Austin, Penn State University, Stanford University, and two German universities, in Goettingen and Munich. — END — Additional Media Contacts: Leslie Hopper, Press Officer, Sul Ross State University, at 432-837-8132 or Brittany Eck, Press Secretary to Congressman Bonilla, at 202-225-4511 or Dr. Phil Kelton, McDonald Observatory Superintendant, at 432-426-3633 or