Astronomy Lost and Found

Just finished my last postgraduate lecture, so that’s the teaching out of the way for this academic year. Time, methinks, for a short post to pass on two little bits of astronomy news for reaction and perhaps comment?

The first item concerns the balloon-borne polarimeter experiment known to its friends as EBEX. A truly bizarre story emerged this week concerning the disappearance of this telescope and associated equipment while it was in transit via lorry from the University of Minnesota to the launch site in Palestine, Texas. The truck failed to arrive at its destination, and seemed to vanish for about three days.

Obviously scientists working on EBEX were getting very nervous about its whereabouts , but finally it showed up. Apparently undamaged. The truck had apparently been stolen when the driver at stayed at a motel for the night; it was eventually found, three days later, abandoned not far from the motel.

Curiously, though, the driver hadn’t reported the theft of the truck to the local police. I wonder why? Something tells me there might be more to this story than meets the eye…

The other item of news I thought I’d pass on is an official announcement from the Science and Technology Facilities Council  of the forthcoming closure of both the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the UK Infra-red Telescope (UKIRT), both based at Hawaii;  UKIRT will close in September 2013, and JCMT the following year.

There’s been much reaction to this announcement on Twitter. Andy Lawrence has posted about it, for example.  Most colleagues of mine who have commented on the STFC decision have expressed dismay at the decision to lose UKIRT and JCMT and surprise at the decision to extend the operations of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma in the Canary Islands, primarily the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) until at least 2015. I’m not sure of the extent to which these decisions were made on scientific grounds.

The decision to close UKIRT/JCMT isn’t exactly a surprise as they have been living on borrowed time since the STFC prioritisation exercise in 2009. It remains to be seen how the astronomical community reacts to the decision. I gather a statement is expected from the Royal Astronomical Society later today.

Comments and reaction are invited via the comments box, but please don’t shoot the messenger!

UPDATE: The statement from the RAS can be found here.

3 Responses to “Astronomy Lost and Found”

  1. telescoper Says:

    I’m told that the science case for extending WHT operations is base on WEAVE:

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    The withdrawal from facilities is always painful, acutely so when those facilities are working at the forefront of international science. I experienced the loss of British access to the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which had unique capabilities at the time. We in Britain are now losing access to Gemini, and with it full access to 8-metre optical and near-infrared telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Money is short and prioritisation is necessary, but we seem to have been cutting very deep indeed for several years.

  3. A response to the STFC statement from the UKIRT Board can be found here:

    Click to access Statement_from_the_UKIRT_Board.pdf


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