UK astronomers get Gemini reprieve for now
BY KEITH COOPER
Posted: February 15, 2008
Just 18 days after unceremoniously being barred from access to the Gemini Observatory's 8.2-metre telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, British astronomers are being allowed back in, until July at least. This is the first glimmer of good news since the astronomy funding crisis began last November.
Following their initial announcement last year stating their intention to withdraw from Gemini, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has been negotiating to be able to retain access to the Gemini North telescope, the only eight-metre class telescope in the Northern Hemisphere that UK astronomers have access to. However, on 25 January STFC were rebuffed in their efforts when the Gemini Board, made up of representatives from its member organisations, announced that they had considered STFC's initial announcement in November to be a notice of withdrawal, effective immediately (starting with the February-July 2008 observing period), despite STFC having not officially handed in any notice.
But new hope has arisen, thanks to continued behind-the-scenes negotiating by STFC and a change of heart by the Gemini Board members (who had even gone as far as taking down the Union Flag at the headquarters). UK astronomers have seen their observing time reinstated on both Gemini telescopes, meaning that projects crucial to PhD studies and high-level research that were scheduled to begin this February will not be cancelled. However, the future for UK involvement is still uncertain.
Astronomy Now contacted STFC to ask for clarification on the situation, which must be making astronomers feel like ping-pong balls, bouncing backwards and forwards - one minute they're in Gemini, the next they're out, then they're in again, with no guarantees for the future. Understandably STFC were unable to divulge any details of the negotiations while they are still continuing, but STFC Press Officer Julia Maddock was able to confirm to us that "We are in discussions about a continued involvement but at a reduced level. The negotiation is around what that reduced level could possibly be."
However many astronomers are very clear on what they would like to see as that reduced level. "We must ensure that the outcome will give UK astronomers continued access to Gemini North," says Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, President of the Royal Astronomical Society. Because Britain already has access to the four 8-metre telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere, at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, losing Gemini South would not be a huge problem, unlike Gemini North. "The Gemini North telescope in Hawaii is crucial for UK astronomers to remain in the front rank of international astronomy."
The clock is now ticking and, one way or another, the situation will be wrapped up when the current observing period ends in July. Says Maddock, "We will continue to have access until July; obviously something will have to be clarified before then about whether we are formerly withdrawing or a new agreement is in place."
The funding crisis is the result in a shortfall of £80 million in the budget provided by the Government to the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which funds all UK astronomy and particle physics. For more information on the crisis, visit www.saveastronomy.org.uk
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE
Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE
HOME | NEWS ARCHIVE | MAGAZINE | SOLAR SYSTEM | SKY CHART | RESOURCES | STORES | SPACEFLIGHT NOW
© 2013 Pole Star Publications Ltd.