As discussed earlier, the UK Infrared Telescope, UKIRT, on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is under threat of closure thanks to funding cuts from STFC. In an unprecedented move, the Telescope Director, backed by the UKIRT board, released a prospectus in September essentially offering the telescope for sale as a going concern to anybody who would be able to pick up the funding baton that STFC is about to drop.
To me and others this seemed to be a desperation measure that was unlikely to succeed. Nothing like it had ever been tried before, and many of us were sadly expecting the bulldozers to move in late in 2013, since the rules are that a telescope that’s not in operation has to be removed from the mountain.
I am thus surprised and very pleased to be able to pass on news from UKIRT that there were twelve expressions of interest in taking over the telescope. Details cannot yet be released as the various bids have to be assessed for viability. Infrared astronomers across the world will be crossing their fingers that this process works, since UKIRT has been a hugely productive telescope over it’s 33 years of operation to date.