The future funding of e-MERLIN and Jodrell Bank
The e-MERLIN network of telescopes, run from the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, is the UK’s national facility for radio astronomy. By connecting seven radio telescopes spread 217 km across England we can see the birth and death of stars, and study black holes and galaxies in the distant universe.
On March 3rd 2008 the government body responsible for funding research in astronomy, the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), published the results of a review of projects and facilities. Although all projects were described as doing good science and of sufficient quality to be funded, they do not have enough resources to fund them all.
In the review the e-MERLIN facility, along with a large number of other projects, was deemed to be lower priority. The panel proposed that support for e-MERLIN be withdrawn from April 2009.
However, a final decision has yet to be made.
A period of consultation with the research community was held during March. Several panels of scientists met to review more than 1200 submissions and make recommendations to STFC. These reports will be made public sometime in June.
A report from the STFC Executive, covering recommendations for the overall shape of the science programme and including comments on individual projects such as e-MERLIN, will be considered by STFC Council on 1st July. After this the report will be made public.
The consequences of withdrawing operational funding for e-MERLIN at this stage are:
- Astronomers would be unable to exploit an £8M upgrade (due to be completed in 2009) which will make e-MERLIN the world’s most powerful array of radio telescopes.
- The UK will lose its major observational capability in radio astronomy, a subject which UK astronomers pioneered more than 50 years ago and in which we still play a leading role.
- The UK will no longer participate in European and global networks of large radio telescopes.
- The UK will risk losing its world-leading role in this area of science and innovation.
- At least six radio telescopes will be closed down (the Mark II at Jodrell Bank and the telescopes at Pickmere, Darnhall, Knockin, Defford and Cambridge).
- Since e-MERLIN is the main activity at Jodrell Bank Observatory, it would place a serious question mark over the sustainability of the observatory as a site for active scientific observations.
For more information on e-MERLIN and its capabilities see the e-MERLIN project webpage.
For more information on the STFC consultation and Programmatic Review see this STFC webpage.
For a summary of media coverage of this story see our "in the news" webpage.
For more information on the wider STFC funding issues see Paul Crowther's webpage.