Spending Review 2010 - HC 618Written evidence submitted by Dr Robert Massey, Royal Astronomical Society (SR 01)

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society to express our thanks for raising astronomy at the inquiry session yesterday morning. We’ve already been in touch with Andrew Miller (and more recently Gareth Thomas and Chi Onwurah) on several occasions about the different issues for our science and it’s been helpful that the Committee has considered them.

Watching the session, I had some concerns over Keith Mason’s replies in particular (although of course we’ll want to see the transcript too to check them against my notes).

For example, in response to the question about pulling out of northern hemisphere observatories, it is hard to agree with the assertion that the decision to shut down UK optical astronomy in Hawaii and La Palma was made on scientific grounds. What can be said is that astronomers took part in a prioritisation exercise to decide how to use reducing available funds—but it isn’t the case that this was based on a decade-long strategy. On the contrary a well planned transformation of the facilities available to UK astronomers was envisaged as a result of joining the European Southern Observatory in 2002, but the current intention to withdraw from all northern hemisphere optical telescopes goes well beyond that plan.

I was also surprised to hear, in response to your question, the suggestion that there was a deliberate ‘over investment’ in astronomy in recent times with an anticipated decline to a normal level thereafter. This is certainly something I’ve never seen in a printed strategy document and it would be interesting to see if an official record exists of this decision.

Once again, many thanks for your help with all of this. Do let us know if you need anything else or if it would be useful for us to meet you to brief you further at some point.

20 January 2011

Prepared 7th November 2011