UK Astronomy Community “Deliberately Sabotaged” By Funding Cuts To Gemini Observatories

UK astronomers have been dealt a serious and unexpected blow. Funding cuts to space research has stopped the nation from continuing its work at the Gemini observatories in Hawaii and Chile. The UK helped to build the 8.1 meter telescopes and have ploughed £70 million ($140 million) to date into the construction and development of the sites since the late 1990’s. In an effort to plug a £80 million ($160 million) deficit in space research funding, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has signalled to researchers that the UK will be pulling out of the project, leaving astronomers bemused and angry.

Next month, the UK’s involvement in the multi-national Gemini project will end. After a decade of construction and research, the world’s most advanced telescopes will lose one of their most influential donors as the STFC has declared the British involvement in the project surplus to the government’s vision for the future of UK science. This decision will leave the US, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina to continue astronomy without their 23.8% shareholder. The move has bewildered astronomers as the Gemini project is considered to be one of the most successful international collaborations in recent years, allowing the seven nation “science club” to observe both hemispheres’ night sky with unparalleled clarity.

To withdraw from the state-of-the-art Gemini facilities leaves the UK ground-based astronomy strategy in disarray – some would say deliberately sabotaged.” – Professor Paul Crowther, Sheffield University, UK.

This move by the STFC highlights the recent turbulence in physics funding. After the merger of two of the largest research councils in the UK, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), the STFC was formed and inherited the unenviable task to find the money to cover the research funding deficit. New prestige facilities such as the Diamond Synchrotron, in Oxfordshire, are over-budget and the shortfall has to be found elsewhere. Requests have been made to the UK government for more funds, but the request has fallen on deaf ears. International research has therefore suffered, with more cuts in astronomy, particle physics and laser optics forecast. Jobs will be lost and the prediction is that the UK will have some of the most advanced physics research centers, but with no scientists to do the research.

The Gemini project is just one of the recent casualties during these dim times for UK physics. A campaign website outlining all the recent cutbacks by the STFC funding crisis has been set up to bring attention to the spiralling problem. The banner reads: “International Year Of Astronomy, 2009 (unless you’re from the UK*). The Universe – Yours To Discover. *All we could afford was this logo.” – STFC Funding Crisis: Astronomy.

Worrying times for the UK, and international physics as a whole.

Sources: BBC website

12 Replies to “UK Astronomy Community “Deliberately Sabotaged” By Funding Cuts To Gemini Observatories”

  1. Wow, it is bad for Gemini funding in short terms. However, I think it may open opportunities for other universities the chance to form consortia to bid usage time on the Gemini.

  2. Absolutely pathetic. A moronic decision from a Government that claims to want to make Britain a ‘world leader in science’.

    They’ve ignored the scientific community, and the 15,000 signatories to a petition aimed at reversing this decision.

    Not only is UK Government throwing away its huge investment in this facility (and others), it will continue to cost money after next month ($16 million). The Government managed to find $120 billion to prop up the Northern Rock bank, billions more on the Olympics in 2012, and let’s not mention the amount spent in Iraq, and yet it can’t find a paltry $160 million (about $5 for every tax payer in the UK) to support fundamental science.

  3. Well you know what to do when it comes to election time. We need a major fuss made, lots more signatories on the Downing Street petitions. If it becomes a popular cause who knows what can be done?

  4. Andy C is spot on. Science is too important to be left in the hands of mere politicians. They will willingly throw good money after bad time and time again for any number of worthless and/or poorly thought out causes and yet completely piss away a quality investment in the future of science in britain. Britain, one of the historically mighty powerhouses of science is rapidly becoming just that – a historical powerhouse. I guess it’s now up to the British people to impress upon their pollies the importance and gravity of the situation.

    Sydney, Australia.

  5. When any government is faced with a finite source of money running out, its either raise taxes or cut programs. A Nanny State form of government is forced to cut science programs in lieu of cutting social funding. Nasa faces the exact same problem, but fortunately, the US has limited its role as caretaker of its citizens. Of course, that changes dynamically with potential political party power changes. Or, we just keep printing money until nobody will take a US dollar. Nasa will be biting its nails, waiting to see what party dominates funding come Jan 20th 2009.

  6. This has nothing to do with socialism, or the “nanny state”. more to do with the current state of ignorange, incompetence and ‘soundbite’ politics.
    Politicians only concerned with results & re-election (surprise)
    The Science education system is being messed about with (yet again) to improve the UK’s place as a nation of innovation. Yet conversely, decisions like these fly in the face of these aims.
    That said, such waste & idiocy has precedent in other areas. Big example of recent years – The Millenium Dome

  7. This is so depressing, my country has become one were mediocrity is an aspiration and people boast of their ignorance in all the sciences.

  8. No surprises here then. Don’t ever forget that it is not the government that decides these things but the money behind the government.
    Projects like these stop making a profit for someone when construction finishes. So someone involved with construction has told Gordon Brown to pull the funding because he has made as much money from it as he can.

  9. Sad, but inevitable.

    What most people in the UK don’t realize, or won’t admit, is that the UK is on its last legs. The infrastructure of the country is failing at an ever increasing rate. Most of the hospitals are “no-go” zones for those who don’t want to contract a superbug virus. The highway system is choking, and public railway is a death gamble due to unfunded maintenance.

    Poor immigration control means that the UK is being flooded with uneducated foreigners who can’t pay their own way, and will eventually suck the life out of the system. The country operates increasingly on a black market system of back-hand payments for services and stolen goods. There are now second and third generation families living off of state benefits, and the numbers are growing.

    A few years ago, I worked in the UK with some of the British Forces. Every time I would visit, they would ask me to leave behind any pens or paper that I brought because they couldn’t get any. They weren’t joking.

    If significant changes don’t occur soon, Britain will be relegated to third-world status within fifty years. Astronomy will be the last thing on their minds.

    Scary, isn’t it?

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