RAS Council statement on STFC decision to withdraw UK from Gemini Observatory
The Royal Astronomical Society is shocked by the STFC's announcement of withdrawal from the Gemini Observatory. Although we are aware of the shortfall in STFC's funding over the 3 years 2008-11 covered by the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, this sudden announcement without consultation of the commmunity is regrettable. Although it can be argued that UK astronomers have access to excellent 8-m optical telescopes in the south through its membership of the European Southern Observatory, the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii is crucial for UK astronomers to remain in the front rank of international astronomy. One example is that the UK is active in a variety of space missions at far infrared, submillimetre and X-ray wavelengths.
These space observatories find exciting new objects over the whole sky that need to be followed up at optical wavelengths.
The UK invested about 35 million pounds in the capital phase of the Gemini Observatories, in which we have a 23% stake. This is being written off to make a saving of the running costs of about 4 million pounds a year. The damage to UK astronomy this will cause is severe and we urge that at the very least the Gemini agreement be renegotiated to retain access to Gemini North.
The STFC announcement is online at www.stfc.ac.uk/About/Strat/Council/gemini.aspx