Les temps sont durs pour les rêveurs. Et les temps sont durs pour les astronomes aussi.
The UK has been determined to drop any and all astronomical operations in Hawaii ever since that fateful research repriositisation in 2009. I just found out today that it’s official. Both the United Kingdom InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT) and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) are due to close at the end of the year. This is some pretty miserable news. As a friend of mine pointed out on hearing the news, UKIRT is extremely productive for how little it costs to maintain. I… honestly don’t know what to say. There aren’t really words for how I feel about this right now, even though I’d already dejectedly come to accept that these two telescopes were probably doomed. At least it looks like the STFC has changed their mind about dropping the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) too. Being completely blind to optical wavelengths in the northern hemisphere would, if I might be frank, be quite idiotic. And I’m not alone in these opinions.
So what happens next? Well, if things work out as well as they currently can, someone will buy the two telescopes and take over their operation. If things don’t, they’ll be decommissioned. And because of the agreement made with Hawaii over the lease, if the telescopes are decommissioned then all trace of them will be removed from Mauna Kea, returning it to its natural state. These two proud instruments are likely to be completely erased from existence.
I’m really starting to think it would be wise to leave optical light for a while and work at radio wavelengths. The call for proposals for ALMA cycle 1 is now open, after all. Or possibly leave this country for one which cares about astronomy. One or the other.
EDIT– There’s now an official Statement from the UKIRT Board released in response to this. All of this makes no sense. It’s just ridiculous.