Poor UKIRT. You may remember me writing a few months ago about the regrettble decision by the UK government to pull the plug on the United Kingdom InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT) and shut down all operations by September 2013. This was after already draining the poor telescope’s resources to the bare minimum. Even inspite of this, UKIRT has managed to still break records and, for its costs of running, be one of the most productive observatories in the world. It’s expected to rise even more dramatically too, despite being older than I am! So the UKIRT directors have decided to do the only sensible thing, and offer the telescope to anyone who’s willing to pay for it.
UKIRT was, for three decades, the largest dedicated infrared observatory in the world. It’s been set up to be remarkably easy to operate, requiring so little effort that the entire operation is now handled remotely with minimal staff required on site, and the estimated cost is a mere US$1.2M per year. For a world class observatory, that’s quite literally pocket change. This is the first time an entire telescope has been simply offered to the global market like this, and I for one would dearly like to see someone take ownership of it.
In a recently released prospectus, the UKIRT directors are urging anyone interested in continuing to use the telescope beyond 2013 to consider submitting an expression of interest. In a bid to save the observatory, they’re looking to consider any and all possibilities – from someone taking over UKIRT in its entirety, to anyone wishing to simply be a minor contributor. In very simple terms, this is a world-leading infrared telescope, being offered to literally any interested party at a remarkably low price. It already has an impressive array of instruments, and is currently in active use. Not only active, but exceedingly productive.
Described in 2005 as “the gold standard for 4m class telescopes”, it would be a tragedy if the entire place had to be dismantled and simply erased from the mountainside – but this is precisely what is due to happen, should they fail to find anyone willing to fund it.
I really do hope that the word can be spread about this in time. It would be genuinely heartbreaking to see UKIRT close its dome forever.
Images are © Tom Kerr, A Pacific View