Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by Chris Benn, Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (APP 31)

Declaration of interest: I am Head of Astronomy at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes on La Palma.

(1) I comment below on the potential impact of the UK withdrawing from ground-based observatories in the northern hemisphere, with particular reference to the possibility of withdrawal from the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes.

(2) UK withdrawal from most of the ground-based observatories in the northern hemisphere would severely limit the ability of UK astronomers to exploit current and future large international surveys, including those delivered by space missions in which the UK has a stake

(e.g. ESA's Gaia).

(3) More generally, while there may be a case for concentrating the most expensive future observatories in the southern hemisphere (usually justified on the grounds that the Universe looks much the same in any direction, on large-enough scales), this should not imply *zero* investment in the north. For example, unique/rare objects and events occur with equal frequency in the two hemispheres. Studies of these rare objects and events often trigger dramatic shifts in our understanding, and UK astronomers need at least some facilities in the north to observe them.

(4) The international reputation of UK astrophysics is strong, with a scientific productivity second only to that of the USA. Partly for this reason, UK astronomers play a leading role in many European astronomy collaborations. The observatory on La Palma is a particularly high-profile international collaboration. UK withdrawal from this observatory would send a negative message to our European partners, and would reduce both the UK's visibility on the international stage, and opportunities to take part in future collaborations.

(5) The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes is a crucial training resource for young UK astronomers, providing hands-on experience for the many PhD students who visit each year to collect data for their theses. At larger telescopes (e.g. at the European Southern Observatory), the observations are typically carried out by observatory staff, rather than visiting scientists, limiting

opportunities for hands-on training. In addition to the above training, ING offers four support-astronomer studentships each year, providing young UK astronomers with a unique opportunity to live and work on La Palma for a year, acquiring the skills required to support visiting observers.

(6) The William Herschel Telescope at the Isaac Newton Group provides a particularly convenient and popular platform for testing new types of astronomical camera, and therefore fosters technical innovation by UK astronomers. For example, it is currently being used as the main test-bed for a prototype of the most ambitious instrument planned for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Chris Benn

Head of Astronomy at the Isaac Newton

Group of Telescopes on La Palma

15th February 2011