In The Field

AAS 2010: Gemini struggles without the UK

gemini.jpg Anyone want some time on a really big telescope? Gemini, the observatory with twin 8-metre telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, could use the money.

In November, the UK cemented its decision to withdraw as a 25% partner from the six-nation observatory by the end of 2012. This is just one of many cuts Britain is making as the STFC tries to climb out of budget hole. The UK had flirted with maintaining some time in the northern hemisphere (since it already has access to ESO telescopes in Chile), but the Gemini board nixed that.

At a town hall meeting at AAS, Gemini director Doug Simons discussed his plans to carry on. Instead of dealing with a sudden drop at the end of 2012, the observatory is cutting budgets by 7% to 10% each of the next three years.

“2010 may be the biggest budget that we have for a very long time,” he said. “I do not expect Gemini to be the same observatory at the end of this process.”

He says the most savings will come from altering the science operations – which may diminish the custom ways in which the observatory manages its science queue.

But Simons is still hopeful that Gemini, which provides the vast majority of large-diameter telescope time for US astronomers through NOAO, will remain relevant. Five new instruments are nearly finished, and Simons wants to keep its unique capabilities in the infrared.


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