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Funds to allow infrared telescope to continue research

April 23, 2014 - 6:09am

Officials with the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope have been on the hunt for funding since the U.K.’s Science and Technology Facilities Council announced it would cease its support after September 2013.

If there had been a lack of interest from research institutions, The Joint Astronomy Centre that runs the telescope would have had to decommission the facility and return its Mauna Kea site to its natural state.

However, JAC director Gary Davis said they received multiple bids and negotiations are now underway between the University of Hawaii, the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Corp., a security and aerospace company that will use the telescope for various research projects.

“What is happening is we are transferring the telescope to the University of Hawaii who is entering an agreement with University of Arizona,” Davis said.

Richard Green, assistant director of UA’s Steward Observatory, said he will become UKIRT’s director when the agreements are finalized.

He said Lockheed’s scientific research branch will use the telescope to conduct research that will eventually be published.

“NASA has provided funding for UKIRT and that money will flow through a scientific research branch at Lockheed and Lockheed will partner with the University of Arizona for research,” he said. “The telescope will belong to the University of Hawaii. That’s what’s under discussion and what’s being worked out as we speak.”

He said there won’t be a lease, but there will be a scientific cooperation agreement with UH.

Green said NASA’s interest in UKIRT involves protecting working satellites in space and studying properties of satellite material that’s in orbit around Earth.

In addition, UH and UA have other interests for the facility, including collecting data for studying properties of asteroids that might come near Earth and studying properties of some of the earliest, most distant galaxies in the universe, Green added.

Davis and Green said they were waiting to complete legal agreements before making the transfer public.

“We’re hoping to wrap it up in the next few months,” Green said.

“The most obvious benefit to me, as an astronomer, is that the telescope will continue to be used for scientific studies,” Davis said. “And it maintains employment for those who would otherwise be out of work.”

Email Megan Moseley mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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