Letter: Scottish choice for astronomy

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Scottish choice

for astronomy

Sir: I write, as chairman of the Ground Based Facilities Committee of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, to express my agreement with the views put forward by Professor Rowan-Robinson (Letters, 12 June).

I believe that the location of the PPARC Astronomical Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh is highly desirable. Regrettably this will also lead to the run-down of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Cambridge, as the possibility of continuing to maintain both facilities is unrealistic.

PPARC would have to close more telescopes and reduce much necessary development on the facilities that we have left. Last February my committee had to reduce the expenditure on the Ground Based Telescope facilities by pounds 7.3m (nearly 10 per cent) over the four-year period from April 1997.

This forced the recommendation that UK support for three telescopes (the UK Schmidt, the Carlsberg Meridian telescope and the JKT) should be withdrawn, along with cuts in the development programmes on other telescopes, including the world-class Merlin radio telescope at Jodrell Bank.

To maintain both RGO and ROE at their present levels is not feasible. The decision to create an Astronomical Technology Centre in Edinburgh cannot be popular with everyone, but I do urge the minister for science and technology to make this tough decision quickly for the benefit of British astronomy.

Professor ALAN WATSON

Pro-Vice-Chancellor

University of Leeds

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