No Reprieve for Greenwich Observatory

BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM--A last ditch plan to save the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) has failed. Citing high risk and costs, the institution's funder, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) of the United Kingdom, today rejected a business plan proposed by RGO staff. "We are very disappointed indeed," says RGO director Jasper Wall.

Earlier this year, PPARC announced it would transfer RGO's duties, which are mainly in telescope design, to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE). The move was expected to save £2.4 million (U.S. $4.1 million) annually for the first 4 years and £4 million (U.S. $6.8 million) annually thereafter. But RGO staff, outraged at the loss of their historic institution, set about preparing a rescue package that would involve setting up a company to provide astronomical services not being transferred to Edinburgh, such as data archiving; PPARC would continue to pay for these services, providing a half of the company's support. One-third more of the budget would have come from establishing a telescope-building business with John Moores University in Liverpool; and the remainder would have come from doing PPARC-supported astronomical research.

PPARC set up two committees last October to consider the proposal. They expressed concern about the plan's long term viability and the element of competition it would pose to the Edinburgh observatory. They also deemed the £1.3 million (U.S. $2.2 million) direct costs to PPARC unacceptable.