Sky and Telescope reports that the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) is in danger of being shut down if its owners can’t find a buyer to keep it in operation.

The UK Infrared Telescope is not exactly a backyard scope. The 3.8-meter (149-inch) instrument is the second-largest infrared telescope in the world and the largest in the northern hemisphere.

Sky and Telescope says the UKIRT is endangered due to funding cuts to pay for other projects such as the European Extremely Large Telescope. One project which Sky and Telescope fails to mention is the James Webb Space Telescope. While the United States is bearing the brunt of the JWST’s $8+ billion price tag, European Space Agency partners (including the United Kingdom) are on the hook for €300 million ($387 million). That amount will likely increase if JWST’s schedule continues to slip.

Sky and Telescope places the cost of keeping UKIRT open at $1.24 million. The European contribution to JWST would be sufficient to keep UKIRT open for 251 years.

When we observe the political decisions that surround professional science, it makes the case for citizen science even stronger. The decision-making process for astronomical projects is obviously out of whack, in the UK as well as the United States. Someone needs to start exploring for new sources of whack.

Written by Astro1 on October 10th, 2012 , Astronomy, Space Policy and Management

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