Guiding lights

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Science  27 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6520, pp. 1028-1029
DOI: 10.1126/science.370.6520.1028

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  • RE: Guiding Lights

    This article “Guiding Lights” provides valuable insights to the celestial reference frame, a critical science infrastructure with far-ranging implications beyond deep space navigation, but it contains an unfortunate internal inconsistency.

    In addition to deep space navigation, the celestial reference frame is used by astronomers world-wide to describe where the objects being observed are on the sky. Further, it couples to other infrastructures such as the terrestrial reference frame and time keeping, activities that underlie many of the results reported in every issue of Science.

    However, the article states that the radio telescopes and the observations with them that are used to construct the celestial reference frame are “costly.” Never stated is the cost of the Gaia mission. Moreover, the article correctly notes that the Gaia frame is not stable and would require a series of subsequent missions in order to be maintained.

    The simple fact is that constructing the increasingly precise foundations required is not inexpensive, whether that be a radio reference frame or an optical reference frame or a next-generation GPS or any of the many other infrastructure upon which we depend for increasingly precise results. The real cost will be when these infrastructures are not appreciated and allowed to degrade, or never even constructed.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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