The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) appear to have given UK astronomers a temporary reprieve over their access to the Gemini Observatories in Chile and Hawaii. As previously reported on the Universe Today, UK astronomers were stunned at the decision to totally pull out from the international collaborationÂ with oneÂ of the worlds most advanced telescope systems. It now appears that the STFCÂ is reinstating the British share in the project by negotiating a reduction in funding, rather than negotiating its withdrawal from the project.
Last month, the council responsible for the UK’s funding of astronomical and physics research announced that the country would be pulling out of the highly successful Gemini Observatory project. The reason? To help plug the Â£80 million ($160 million) hole in their finances. After calls to the British government for financial aid fell on deaf ears, drastic measures to cut the Â£4 million ($8 million) per year investment to the project seemed like one of the options open to them. Reaction to the news led to speculation from some academics that UK astronomy was being “deliberately sabotaged”.
STFC funding cuts have proved highly unpopular since it inherited the debt from the two previous councils (the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council – PPARC – and Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils – CCLRC) the STFC was merged from in April 2007. Many UK scientists are bemused by the cutbacks, blaming hugely expensive projects (such as the Diamond Synchrotron in Oxfordshire) for going over budget. There is the prediction that the UK may have some of the finest research facilities in the world, but due to job cutbacks from the funding deficits, there will be nobody to carry out the research. SomeÂ scientists have even highlighted recent cutbacks by campaigning for change to the STFC and government funding of research councils.
Although the STFC has altered its position on Gemini funding, astronomers remain cautious as discussions continue over the future of British involvement. For now, the UK will be involved in cutting edge astronomy research till the summer at least. Beyond that, some cutbacks seem ominous, but at least the “hasty” decision to pull out of the project has been revoked for the time being.
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