Work to continue at UK telescope


After years of uncertainty, a telescope on Mauna Kea facing funding cuts will continue to conduct research into outer space.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, or UKIRT, has been on the hunt for funding for two years after the U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council announced it would be ceasing funding for the telescope after September of 2013, according to a 2012 article in the Tribune-Herald.

If there had been a lack of interest from research institutions, The Joint Astronomy Centre that runs the telescope would have had to decommission the facility and return the area to its natural state.

However, JAC director Gary Davis said they received multiple bids and selected one on the basis of the proposal.

Currently, negotiations are underway between the University of Hawaii, the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Corp., a security and aerospace company that will use the telescope for various research projects.

“What is happening is we are transferring the telescope to the University of Hawaii who is entering an agreement with University of Arizona,” Davis explained.

Richard Green, assistant director of UA’s Steward Observatory, said he will become UKIRT’s director when the agreements are finalized.

He said Lockheed’s scientific research branch will utilize the telescope to conduct research that will eventually be published.

“NASA has provided funding for UKIRT and that money will flow through a scientific research branch at Lockheed and Lockheed will partner with the University of Arizona for research,” he said. “The telescope will belong to the University of Hawaii. That’s what’s under discussion and what’s being worked out as we speak.”

He said there won’t be a lease, and that there’s going to be a scientific cooperation agreement with UH instead, and that the university will continue to own the telescope.

Green said NASA’s interest for using UKIRT involves protecting working satellites in space and studying properties of satellite material that’s in orbit around the Earth.

In addition, he said UH and UA have other interests for the facility, including collecting data for studying properties of asteroids that might come near the Earth and studying properties of some of the earliest, most distant galaxies in the universe.

When asked why the transfer hasn’t been made public, Davis and Green said they were waiting to complete legal agreements before making an announcement.

“We’re hoping to wrap it up in the next few months,” Green said.

Davis said when negotiations are complete, he intends to share with the public the news and that he’s pleased to see that the telescope will continue to be used for scientific research.

“The most obvious benefit to me, as an astronomer, is that the telescope will continue to be used for scientific studies,” he said. “And it maintains employment for those who would otherwise be out of work.”

Email Megan Moseley mmoseley@hawaiitribune- herald.com

 

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