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RAS PN 07/46: Shock at decision to pull UK out of Gemini Observatory

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 13:47
Published on Thursday, 15 November 2007 00:00
The Council of the RAS have expressed their shock at the decision by STFC to pull the UK out of the Gemini Observatory.

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS RELEASE: RAS SHOCK AT DECISION TO PULL UK OUT OF GEMINI OBSERVATORY
Date: 15 November 2007                       For Immediate Release
Ref.: PN 07/46
 
Issued by:
Dr Robert Massey
RAS Press Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London W1J 0BQ
Tel: +44 (0)794 124 8035, +44 (0)20 7734 4582
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RAS website: http://www.ras.org.uk
 
RAS SHOCK AT DECISION TO PULL UK OUT OF GEMINI OBSERVATORY
 
The Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the UK’s society for professional astronomers and geophysicists, have expressed their shock at the sudden decision of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to withdraw the UK from the Gemini Observatory.

Gemini consists of two 8-m optical telescopes, one in Hawaii (Gemini North) and one in Chile (Gemini South), which together can be used to observe the entire sky. The two telescopes saw ‘first light’ in 1999 and 2000 respectively and the UK has been a key partner in the Observatory since its inception. The decision to withdraw from the project appears to have been made without any consultation with the astronomical community.

The RAS Council issued the following statement:

‘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 community 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.’

RAS President Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson further commented ‘This decision is a serious mistake and a shock to all of us. If it goes ahead it will deny UK scientists access to large telescopes in the northern hemisphere and hinder their ability to study almost half the sky. I call on the STFC to rethink this proposal.’

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.