Letter: Astronomy moves to Edinburgh

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The Independent Online
Sir: Although the decision that John Battle, the new minister for science and technology, faces over the future of the Royal Observatories is a difficult one, I'm not sure that he will be much helped by your feature "A Closed Subject?" (Tabloid, 10 June).

I'm surprised that Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, is quoted as demanding more consultation on the issue. The subject has been debated ad nauseam in the astronomical community and within the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). Most astronomers are in agreement that a clear decision is needed to focus the UK's technological development of instrumentation for optical and infra-red telescopes in a single Astronomical Technology Centre. And every time the location for such a centre has been debated by astronomers, the conclusion has been that on balance it should be in Edinburgh. This is simply a reflection that the future lies in infra- red astronomy, which has been Edinburgh's speciality.

The scale of the restructuring required at present is a product of past dithering by PPARC and the ludicrous Prior Options exercise of the past two years. As chairman of PPARC's main astronomy grants committee I am extremely concerned that whole areas of astronomy will cease to be funded if we do not carry out this restructuring. Bluntly, in a couple of years' time our current ground-based programme will need only about half as many people as are currently employed at the two observatories.

The 320 year old history of the Royal Greenwich Observatory has been mostly associated with Greenwich, and will remain alive there. The seven years of association of RGO with Cambridge are not a strong enough reason to negate the case for an Edinburgh Astronomical Technology Centre.

Professor MICHAEL ROWAN-

ROBINSON

Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

London SW7

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