Press Release

STFC Island Site Telescopes

By SpaceRef Editor
May 31, 2012
Filed under , ,

STFC chief executive Professor John Womersley announced today the United Kingdom was confident of continuing astronomical research using telescopes on the Canary Islands, and that operations on two Hawaiian telescopes would be extended to complete planned science.

However, the Hawaiian telescopes would be either transferred to alternate operators or decommissioned once the existing science missions were completed.

Professor Womersley said STFC Council had on Tuesday considered the future of the two sites:
* The United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT) and James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), both on Mauna Kea on the main island of Hawaii, and the associated Joint Astronomy Center (JAC) based in Hilo, Hawaii;
* 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).

Acting on advice and recommendations from its Science Board, Council has now agreed to:
* extend operation of JCMT to end September 2014, to allow for completion of the agreed science program for the SCUBA-2 instrument on the JCMT;
* cease STFC support for the operation of UKIRT from end September 2013, a year after the completion of its current survey program;
* extend operations of ING initially until March 2015, which will provide additional time for negotiations with existing partners with the goal of retaining continued access to the northern sky for UK astronomers.

“We are pleased to be able to extend the operation of the Hawaii telescopes for at least another year to enable further excellent research to be conducted,” Professor Womersley said. “STFC shares the UK astronomy community’s desire to maintain access to telescopes in the northern hemisphere as well as to the world-leading European facilities in Chile, and we are confident that our discussions with Spain and the Netherlands in relation to the ING will be positive.”

“However, we must now also commence negotiations with the University of Hawaii as the leaseholder of the Mauna Kea sites, and with other potential operators of each of the Hawaii telescopes. If a suitable alternate operator is not identified for either Hawaiian telescope, STFC will decommission that telescope and restore the site as required by the lease.”

Notes to Editors

STFC’s predecessor Council for astronomy agreed in 2001 to wind down operations of the island telescopes as part of UK accession to the European Southern Observatory organization. Membership of ESO gives UK astronomers access to world-class telescopes in Chile.

In 2009, a prioritisation of the STFC science program recommended the closure of both sites by the end of 2012, however STFC extended the life of both groups of telescopes to complete existing agreed science programs and commissioned a review of the future of both telescopes by its independent scientific advisory body — Science Board. STFC Council’s decision is based on that advice.

Lucy Stone
01235 445627



The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:

* in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR. STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.
* overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii

SpaceRef staff editor.