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University of Hawai'i Assumes Ownership of UK Infrared Telescope

Press Release From: Science and Technology Facilities Council
Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The University of Hawai'i (UH) will today assume ownership of the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea. UKIRT is one of the world's leading astronomical observatories.

Professor Gary Davis, Director of the Joint Astronomy Center which has been operating UKIRT for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said, "UKIRT has been a fabulous success story for British astronomy over its 35-year lifetime. I have never known a machine that inspires such affection amongst its users. Over the past decade, the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) has opened up new frontiers in infrared astronomy, and as a consequence UKIRT has been the most productive telescope on the planet for the past two years. It has been my honor to be the director of this remarkable observatory."

Professor Pat Roche, final chair of the UKIRT board, added "Astronomers using UKIRT have made many world-leading discoveries, including the detection and characterization of the weak emission from brown dwarfs to the identification of the most distant quasar known. UKIRT's innovative instruments have played a key role in the development of the field of infrared astronomy, with a rich stream of astronomical results supporting research programs and student training at universities throughout the UK and beyond. The telescope remains a very powerful instrument at the peak of its performance, and I am confident that it will continue to produce exciting results under the new operational arrangements."

Professor Grahame Blair, Director of Science Programs at STFC, said, "We are delighted to be transferring UKIRT to the University of Hawai'i who will be continuing with an active research program. UKIRT has been a valuable observatory for astronomers in the UK for many years and I would like to thank all the staff and scientists who made it so productive."

STFC announced in 2012, following a review of observational capabilities, that it would no longer continue to support the telescope in a tightly constrained financial environment. STFC extended operations of UKIRT while arrangements for its future were made, including completing the highly productive UKIDSS sky survey. To support the UK astronomical community, STFC is funding a range of telescopes, including access to the European Southern Observatory's facilities such as VISTA and the VLT, ALMA and work on future facilities such as the Square Kilometre Array and the European Extremely Large Telescope, to maintain the UK's world leading position in astronomy.

Upon the cessation of UK-funded operations, the existing sublease for the UKIRT will be terminated. The facility and responsibility for the site, including the telescope, all instruments, associated equipment and software will transfer to the University of Hawai'i.

The University of Hawai'i has negotiated a Scientific Cooperation Agreement with the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Space Technology Advanced Research and Development Laboratories to provide for the UKIRT's continued scientific operation, initially using only the Wide-Field Camera, built at the UK ATC and used for the survey observations. The new operators have also started to refurbish and re-commission several of UKIRT's other instruments.

Dr. Guenther Hasinger, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy, said, "We are delighted that UKIRT will continue to produce top quality astronomical research. With a capable new operator and state-of-the-art instrumentation, UKIRT can continue to be a world leader in infrared astronomy for at least 10 more years."

 

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