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JCMT future looking brighter

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 15:16
Published on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 13:05

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), the largest sub-millimetre telescope in the world, which was under threat for some years as a result of cuts to the UK science budget, may now be able to continue operations. Sited on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, JCMT is a UK-led project that saw first light in 1987, has a mirror 15 metres across, and has been a vital astronomical tool.

The James Clerk Maxwell TelescopeThe James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Credit: JCMT / Joint Astronomy CentreFour East Asian countries, Canada and the UK have announced their intention to form a partnership that will see ownership of the telescope transfer from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to the University of Hawaii. The lead partner in JCMT will be the East Asian Core Observatories Association (EACOA) that brings together four astronomical research institutes: ASIAA (Taiwan), NAOC (China), KASI (South Korea) and NAOJ (Japan). The Purple Mountain Observatory in China is also included in the EACOA bid. STFC are negotiating with the consortium to allow the continued UK access to the observatory.

Investment in the European Southern Observatory since 2002 gives UK astronomers access to a wide range of first class telescopes in Chile. Despite this, the generally difficult funding environment forced the UK to withdraw from JCMT, which was seen as a severe blow to British astronomy that angered many in the scientific community.

RAS President Prof. Martin Barstow welcomed its reprieve: "The JCMT has been a pioneering and important part of the UK ground-based astronomy programme. If it goes ahead, this imaginative international collaboration should be able to save one of the world's leading telescopes and ensure that UK astronomers retain access to a valuable scientific resource."