LETTER:British astronomers at the final frontier

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The Independent Online
From Professor K. A. Pounds

Sir: I would like to congratulate you on the excellent coverage of several remarkable discoveries made recently with the Hubble Space Telescope ("In a faraway corner of the universe ...", 18 January). Since its out-of-focus optics were corrected a year ago, the HST has begun to realise its full potential to obtain the clearest and deepest astronomical images ever seen.

My present purpose is to point to the substantial role of British astronomers in the HST project. One of the two cameras on board the spacecraft was provided by the European Space Agency to a British design, while the solar arrays were built by British Aerospace. More importantly, it is far from the case that "few" British astronomers are using the HST. In fact, many of our university groups are active in HST programmes, and year-on-year the UK continues to win the largest share of HST observing time of any country outside the US. The international standing of our astronomers is an asset we must use to maximum effect in enhancing public interest in science, especially among the young. Projects such as HST, the Galileo probe to Jupiter, and the recently launched ESA missions - Soho, to study the Sun, and Iso, using infrared radiation to probe regions of star and planetary formation - can be expected to provide many exciting discoveries over the next few years.

Yours faithfully,

Ken Pounds

Chief Executive and

Deputy Chairman

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

Swindon, Wiltshire

18 January