Closing our eyes


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.

Image credits:
Upper – Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii
Lower (both) – A Pacific View

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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3 Responses to Closing our eyes

  1. Pingback: Adopt an observatory: Abandoned world class 4m infrared telescope in need of a loving owner | Supernova Condensate

  2. pax says:

    Ugh, bad news seem to come in heaps now. And loosing well working instruments which are already *there* seems like double stupid.
    And yesterday I was told that radio people are not that happy about a lot of things, too :( Not about something particular, just in general with a lot of small things.

    • invaderxan says:

      The stupidest part is that they’ve now agreed to keep the JCMT open until September 2014 but they’re closing UKIRT on September 2013. The two telescopes are run by the same people and if one is open it actually costs nothing to keep the second one open too. Killing one of them a year early seems to serve no purpose other than to prove some kind of a point. I have no confidence in the STFC. They don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

      I hadn’t heard anything about problems in the radio community. With the recent announcement about the SKA, I thought they were the only ones with good news… :

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