SAVING GAL HASSIN
Hon. SERGIO MATTARELLA
President of the Republic
Prof. MARIO DRAGHI
President of the Council of Ministers
Dr. MARIA CRISTINA MESSA
Minister of University and Research
Dott. PATRIZIO BIANCHI
Minister of Education
Hon. DARIO FRANCESCHINI
Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities
Hon. MARIA ROSARIA CARFAGNA
Minister for the South and Territorial Cohesion
Hon. NELLO MUSUMECI
President of the Sicilian Region
Hon. GIANFRANCO MICCICHÈ
President of the Sicilian Regional Assembly
Subject: SAVING GAL HASSIN
GAL Hassin is a Foundation registered with the Regional Register of Legal Persons—established at the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Region—which began operating in September 2016. Also signed up with the National Register of Research of the MIUR, it carries out an intense educational and outreach activity aimed mainly at schools (more than 50,000 students from 2017 to February 2020, when it had to be put on hold due to the health emergency caused by Covid-19) and research in astrophysics.
As such it participates in major international projects and collaborates with the Minor Planet Center (Harvard, Massachusetts), the International Asteroid Warning Network (University of Maryland), the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (Nice), and DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt) in Berlin in the field of research on minor Solar System bodies and Near-Earth Objects (NEOs, asteroids potentially hazardous to Earth). In the field of research on extrasolar planets it participates in the ExoClock project, preparatory to the ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) space mission, having shown remarkable degree of professionalism in high-level scientific collaborations. The results obtained in these areas of research are already very satisfactory.
But even more can be done with the Wide-field Mufara Telescope (WMT), an innovative telescope and world prototype, already installed on top of Mount Mufara (Madonie) and being tested. The European Space Agency (ESA) will, too, soon place another telescope on Monte Mufara, this time a newly designed instrument and also a world prototype, named NEOSTEL FLY-EYE.
All over these years GAL Hassin has received awards, official acknowledgement of interest and quality credentials from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the University of Tübingen, NASA, and the United Nations (UN). It has as well hosted scientific personalities of great importance such as the Nobel laureates for Physics George F. Smooth and Michel Mayor, the astronaut Paolo Nespoli, and many other luminaries like Giovanni Bignami, Nicolò D’Amico, Margherita Hack, Corrado Lamberti, Marcello Coradini, just to name a few.
In modern times, astronomical observatories are built in remote locations, far from inhabited centers, to minimize the effects of light pollution. The Sicilian territory of the Madonie, thanks to its particular location and the extraordinary conditions of transparency of the sky, is probably one of the few national sites where it is still advantageous to have an Astronomical Observatory, equipped with instrumentation that is scientifically competitive at the international level (i.e., the Wide-field Mufara Telescope – WMT). The Madonie Observatory is therefore preparing to become a center of excellence for astronomical research, a historic occasion that the Sicilian Region cannot miss, given the interest that national and foreign institutions have shown in our activities.
Thanks to a substantial funding of € 7,500,000.00 received in November 2009 by CIPE (Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming), for the creation of a cultural center around the theme of astronomy and for the enhancement of the territory, the GAL Hassin was built in three years and inaugurated on September 11, 2016. The start-up of the activities was supported from 2015 to 2017 by the MIUR (Ministry of Education – Ministry of University and Research) for a total of € 1,500,000.00 and, in the years 2018 – 2020, again by the MIUR, following participation in a three-year call, for a total of about € 390,000.00. These sums are to be understood as support of an extraordinary nature and not full-scale funding; in any case, insufficient to ensure the project’s life and its multi-year planning. The receipts from activities total about € 80.000,00 per year, but in the last two years activities have been put on hold due to the health emergency.
GAL Hassin is a more than clear example of public funding well spent. Today, with the remnants of the received funding, it is estimated to have a life expectancy of just one more year. In the absence of a stable financial support base at least in the medium term, the only option left will be its closure, consigning to waste the effort and huge public financial resources already committed. Above all, a unique and unrepeatable opportunity for the Sicilian Region will be lost forever. Behind the reality of GAL Hassin is a history of great passions, of sufferings and unimaginable difficulties, of commitments given freely and without taking into account political affiliations, of national and international relations built. And it will not be easy at all to resume this project.
It is therefore urgently requested, to the pertinent authorities, to act, each in its own capacity, to avoid that a Center of excellence that promotes Culture and Scientific Research is forced to close.