Google has announced a $1 million donation to California's historic Lick Observatory, a 125-year old facility that has participated in many of astronomy's most important discoveries.
The donation will cover the daily operating expenses of the University of California's observatory atop Mount Hamilton east of San Jose which has long been in need of financial support.
The donation will augment the $1.5 million the 10-campus UC system spends each year to operate the observatory, a reduced amount from the $2.5 million available annually before the recent recession that has sometimes left telescopes dormant because of staff shortages.
"I am delighted that Google is supporting the Lick effort and thus helping provide UC students with unique hands-on experiences in valuable astronomy research," said UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming.
Lick Observatory was established in 1888 as the world's first permanent mountaintop observatory and currently houses seven telescopes used by both astronomers and students to conduct research.
In more than a century of its operation the observatory has participated in the discovery of asteroids, the moons of Jupiter and distant exoplanets outside our solar system.
"Lick Observatory has been making important discoveries while training generations of scientists for more than 100 years," said Chris DiBona, director of open source for Google. "Google is proud to support their efforts in 2015 to bring hands-on astronomical experiences to students and the public."
UC Berkeley professor of astronomy Alex Filippenko has been at the forefront of efforts to secure funding for the continued operation of Lick.
"Astronomy is the 'gateway science' -- kids are enthralled by cosmic discoveries, spectacular images, and far-out concepts, which can inspire them to pursue technical fields such as applied physics, engineering and computer science," he says.
"So there's a real opportunity to make a difference, through the research, education and public outreach we do at Lick Observatory."
Faculty, postdoctoral scholars, students and other researchers throughout the UC campus system can conduct remote observations using Lick's main general-use telescopes.
"These telescopes provide undergraduates with a unique opportunity to participate in substantial astronomical research," Filippenko says. "I have about a dozen undergraduate students doing Lick research now, many more than ever before."
Filippenko says he hopes Google's high-profile gift will convince others to donate as well, a feeling shared by California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who has pushed for legislative support for the facility.
"I hope this is the beginning of many gifts recognizing Lick Observatory's important role in inspiring future scientists and adding to our understanding of what lies beyond our solar system," she says.