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UH Assumes Ownership of United Kingdom Infrared Telescope


The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Maunakea. Photo courtesy JAC.

The University of Hawai‘i assumed ownership of the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Maunakea on October 31. The UKIRT is one of the world’s leading astronomical infrared observatories, but its funding agency, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), announced in 2012 that it could no longer continue to support the telescope in a tightly constrained financial environment.

To save this valuable telescope, which produced more than 200 scientific publications annually, UH has negotiated a scientific cooperation agreement with the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Space Technology Advanced Research and Development Laboratories. With funding from NASA and Lockheed Martin, UKIRT, now under the direction of UA staff, will provide new opportunities for research in all areas of astrophysics, but particularly in near-Earth asteroid characterization, studies of forming stars, galaxy evolution, and space debris and its impact on man-made satellites. Initially, only the large infrared camera is being used for the survey work, but the new operators have also started to refurbish and re-commission several of the observatory’s other instruments. UK scientists will continue to provide support of existing data processing and archiving capabilities.

IfA Director Günther Hasinger said, “We are delighted that the 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.”