The Cost and Citation-based Effectiveness of Observational Astronomical Facilities since 1958

Leverington, David (1997). The Cost and Citation-based Effectiveness of Observational Astronomical Facilities since 1958. PhD thesis The Open University.



This is the first comprehensive, quantitative analysis of the cost-effectiveness of both ground- and space-based astronomical observatories. The effectiveness is based on an analysis of the 15% most highly-cited papers published in the Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in the first half of every fourth year from 1958 to 1994, inclusive. The costs include both capital and annual operations costs.

The analysis shows that there has been a progressive swing away from small, ground-based, optical/IR telescopes over the period 1958-1994, in terms of highly-cited papers, so that by 1994 two-thirds of all ground-based, optical/IR results were being produced using telescopes > 2.5m diameter. The Hale 5m was the most effective optical/IR telescope over the whole period, but the AAT matched it in the second half of the period. The VLA was the most effective radio telescope, and the Einstein Observatory and lUE was the most effective spacecraft over the whole period, although the CGRO, ROSAT and HST produced high-quality results at the end of the period.

Large ground-based, optical/IR telescopes were more cost-effective, on average, than smaller telescopes; the two most cost-effective large telescopes over the second half of my period being the AAT and 3m Lick. Ground-based, optical/IR telescopes taken as a whole were more cost-effective than either ground-based radio telescopes or spacecraft observatories. The cost-effectiveness of spacecraft has increased over the last twenty years, however, although the high cost of the HST caused a reduction in overall spacecraft cost-effectiveness in 1994.

Finally, the facilities recommended in the decennial NRC reports are compared with those provided, and some of the reasons for the poor correlation discussed. The thesis ends with general conclusions and a discussion of possible lessons to be learnt.

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