UK Gemini telescope bid rejected

Many others have been doing their best to disseminate information on the UK Physics funding crisis (especially Sheffield Prof Paul Crowther) but it’s probably worth pointing out the latest repercussion (which has already been picked up by the BBC): despite a bid to remain involved at a reduced level, it looks like the UK will be forced to completely withdraw from the Gemini telescope consortium. This is particularly dangerous for astronomers here, as Gemini-North was the only large telescope (about 8 meters in diameter) in the Northern Hemisphere to which the UK had access. Now, half the sky will be inaccessible, at least at the highest sensitivities and with the most advanced instruments. (Realistically, this will likely force us to collaborate with European, Asian and American colleagues, and probably to give up leadership roles in these projects.)

Meanwhile, committees are meeting, the government is holding hearings, and we scientists are being quietly advised that, essentially, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar, so we’d better not start pondering the thought that, perish forbid, anyone had actually made a mistake getting to this increasingly difficult position. Let’s hope that whatever is going on behind the scenes is better than what we’re seeing out front.

3 responses to “UK Gemini telescope bid rejected”

  1. AGeek avatar

    Britons forced to collaborate with Europeans? You mean strange creatures from another continent and all? Oh no, that’s just horrible!

  2. Kav avatar

    “Let’s hope that whatever is going on behind the scenes is better than what we’re seeing out front.”
    I would not bet on it. When STP lost out in the 1st programmatic review we adopted a ‘behind the scenes’, back channels strategy. You can see how that panned out for us.
    “Britons forced to collaborate with Europeans?”
    UK astronomers were told at the last NAM meeting that one of the prime keys for successful funding was UK leadership of a project. No-leadership, no-funding was the implication. I doubt they will look too favourably on proposals that have the UK as junior partners in a study in this time of severe belt tightening.

  3. Dave avatar

    The UK has a long tradition of collaborating with Europeans, the biggest example of which on the ground is our involvement in ESO. However the key part of that organization is the S – Southern. Most of Europe’s high quality observing sites are in the southern hemisphere. Pulling out of Gemini and the ING will leave us with no optical access to the northern skies. This is critical to following up survey programmes with our northern submm and IR telescopes, JCMT and UKIRT. The one good route for collaboration in the north in Europe is Spain, through their Canaries observatories, but we’re effectively dumping the ING on them so they’re not likely to be best pleased with us. There will doubtless be individual collaborations but these will be done on a piecemeal basis with Spanish leadership of the optical programmes. The other alternative is similar piecemeal collaborations with US institutes who have plenty of northern observatories and now even more Gemini time. Again, there will have to be a US lead on such projects.
    Any way you cut it the UK will get less bang for it’s buck as well as spending fewer bucks. Specifically the huge lead that projects like UKIDSS and SCUBA2, using northern telescopes, give us in the IR and submm will be seriously dented as we lose the ability to capitalize on these projects with optical followup.
    It’s no good finding a candidate redshift 6 quasar with UKIDSS if you then have to hand the data to someone else to get the confirming redshift.