Shoot for the Stars

Canadian astronomers will unveil an ambitious plan later this month for keeping their country at the forefront of exploration. But observers predict they face an uphill battle convincing politicians to go along with a $185 million boost for astronomy over the next decade, beginning in the 2001 budget. The new money would roughly double what Canada currently spends on the discipline, including its flagship 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The highest priority, according to a blue-ribbon panel that made the recommendations, is to buy 5% stakes in the international Next Generation Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array project in Chile, at a total cost of $90 million. Other hoped-for initiatives include funding more research fellowships and high-performance computers to crunch data. Without such investments, Canadian astronomers will be "sidelined," says panel chair Ralph Pudritz, a professor of physics and astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.