Candidates interested in UKIRT
By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A Mauna Kea telescope that’s running out of time and money may have a lifeline.
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, or UKIRT, has been counting down the days since the cash-strapped U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council announced this summer that it would be discontinuing funding for the telescope after September 2013.
UKIRT and another U.K.-managed telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, are both run by the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo.
The fate of UKIRT had long been in doubt as a result of prior rounds of staff reductions and a switch to remote observations, but the June decision forced telescope operators to be creative in finding a new source of funding.
In October, JAC Director Gary Davis announced that his organization was willing to hand over the operations of the world’s second largest infrared telescope to “any astronomy organization that would like to take it over” at no cost.
Had no research institution expressed interest, the JAC would have had to decommission the telescope and return the site to its natural condition. But on Friday, Davis said there was hope.
“We’ve received a number of expressions of interest for UKIRT, and a number of them appear to be (strong possibilities), so we’re really looking at it in detail,” Davis said.
Because no decision had been made, Davis could not say who has expressed interest.
“I’m hoping to make a final decision by the end of March,” he said.
If an operator can be found, the 33-year-old telescope will scan the night skies until a final decision to terminate funding is reached or until the expiration of the University of Hawaii’s lease of Mauna Kea in 2033.
Since 2005, UKIRT has been compiling the U.K. Infrared Deep Sky Survey, a panoramic study of the entire sky in the infrared spectrum. The survey is focused on distant redshifted galaxies at the margins of the visible universe. The telescope has operated since 2010 in “minimalist mode,” meaning that it is unattended at night and is operated remotely from a control room in Hilo.
JCMT, a submillimeter observatory with a 49-foot diameter reflector dish, faces the same fate as UKIRT. The funding for JCMT is scheduled to expire in 2014, and Davis said he would make a similar announcement offering its world-class facilities in the future.
Davis said his own position is up in the air, depending on what the new operators of UKIRT decide.
UKIRT and JCMT are not the only observatories facing funding challenges. At a meeting in Chile in November, Australia has indicated it will not be a partner with Gemini Observatory after 2015.
“The position of Australia at this time is that it cannot commit funding for the observatory post-2015, but expresses a desire to remain engaged in Gemini for access to the telescope in a non-party status,” the Gemini Board said in a resolution. “The board will work with the executive agency to seek potential new partners.”
This new announcement comes on top of the U.K.’s stated intent to withdraw as a partner at the end of this year, severely crimping operations. Gemini officials could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.
Rules for posting comments
Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Oahu Publishing Inc. or this newspaper. This is a public forum.
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content but the newspaper is under no obligation to do so. Comment posters are solely responsible under the Communications Decency Act for comments posted on this Web site. Oahu Publishing Inc. is not liable for messages from third parties.
IP and email addresses of persons who post are not treated as confidential records and will be disclosed in response to valid legal process.
Do not post:
- Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
- Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
- Copyrighted materials of any sort without the express permission of the copyright holder.
- Personal attacks, insults or threats.
- The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
- Comments unrelated to the story.
If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon below the comment.