UKIRT extension

July 29, 2013

UKIRT fans will be pleased to see the announcement here

As UK astronomers will know, UKIRT was slated for closure in September this year, but STFC invited proposals for new operators. The good news is that they have two serious bidders. The bad news is they won’t complete negotiations by September. The good news is that STFC has taken the sane decision to extend UKIRT operation through to December while this process continues. The even better news is that University of Hawaii has swallowed the legal responsibility. (For a suitable one off capital transfer methinks…)

UH also swallow responsibility for JCMT. But that has another year to work things out…

Anyhoo. Tally Ho 🙂

Update : it seems the news is even better than we thought !


Update next morning : damn. STFC got tough againukirt-not-2103

NAM and the Knife Edge

July 5, 2013

pointer NAMcupwin Had a jolly few days at NAM2013, the annual UK astronomy jamboree. I gave two talks, a contributed talk and a plenary. This was hard work. Stress City. But I got through it and even enjoyed myself with a giant broom-pointer gag. Later the same day, the Edinburgh team won the NAM footie, beating St Andrews 6-1 in the final, so smiles all round this side of the Firth of Forth. Thanks to Duncan Forgan for the piccie.

Wednesday afternoon was the STFC community session. John Womersley gave an upbeat talks on the state of STFC but the community was left rather nervous. Here are a few key points :

  • Because of the upcoming election, the spending review is for 2015-16 only. The long term funding is all still to play for.
  • The science budget has its allocation (flat cash plus a teensy bit of extra capital) but the Research Council carve-up is still to come. My giant mop may be needed to clean up the blood.
  • The STFC budget result will come in September, same time as the STFC programmatic review outcome is announced. I guess this means that we still won’t know whats in and whats out…
  • Three years ago flat cash seemed like a victory. This time it could look more like disaster. The longer it continues, the more inflation erodes. As erosion continues, at first you just lose some soil – but there comes a day when the cliff collapses. Womersley uses a different metaphor. He said he is telling government that we are on a knife edge. There are rumours that ISIS may have to be mothballed. Wouldn’t make my high-pressure chums very happy…
  • JCMT is now up for sale. (See also SEN article). Meanwhile STFC are negotiating with two serious potential new owners for UKIRT. It seems unlikely this will conclude before the axe is due to fall in September, so there may be a temporary stay of execution.
  • We need to make the case to Government for our economic relevance. Well ok, we have all heard this again and again, but Wommers had a potentially important new idea. We need quantifiable metrics – somewhat along the lines that a road building project might use, quoting the number of commuter-hours saved and attaching a pound-note figure. This won’t be easy, but it really is necessary. You see, I think most politicians are already convinced that science is important, but this warm feeling doesn’t tell them whether they need to spend N pounds or 2N pounds or 0.5N pounds.

Well that will do. For those with a Research Fortnight subscription, there is an excellent article just out by James Wilsdon from Sussex with some interesting insight.

Meanwhile, just to show that it is technically possible to balance permanently on a knife edge, here is Emerson Lake and Palmer forty years on. A treat for prog rock fans. Janacek fans still divided.

Farewell UKIRT

May 31, 2012

A short but sad post. After yet another review, STFC has finally bitten the bullet and decided to close both JCMT (at the end of 2014) and UKIRT (in September 2013). Not a big surprise, but very very sad. La Palma is extended to 2015 with hope of extended negotiations with partners. The STFC announcement is here. I understand there will be an RAS reaction today.

The timing twists the knife. Today we start the fourth Science from UKIDSS workshop, and UKIRT just announced record-breaking productivity.The last UKIDSS observing was about a week or so back. For the final year, UKIRT will carry out a large area J-band survey, the first section of the hoped-for UKIRT Hemisphere survey. The final UKIDSS data release won’t be too long now, but I am expecting it will produce science for years to come – 338 UKIDSS related publications so far, and the rate is still speeding up.

Of course, WFCAM is just the last in a long line of stunning UKIRT instruments. Catch me in the pub and you will get my UKT9, CGS4, and IRCAM stories.

My grateful thanks to dozens of UKIRT and JCMT over the last thirty years, but especially to the gang who are still there now making my science possible – Gary, Tom, Watson, Jack, Thor et al.

I have this feeling that our workshop dinner tonight may be even more sozzled than we expected.