United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Maunakea (credit: United Kingdom Infrared Telescope)

The University of Hawaiʻi will today assume ownership of the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Maunakea. UKIRT is one of the world’s leading astronomical infrared observatories.

UH President David Lassner said, “We are pleased to steward UKIRT, a telescope that has made remarkable discoveries supporting the advancement of astronomical science. It is fitting to add it to our world-class portfolio of research assets, as UKIRT has pioneered many operational innovations, including flexible scheduling and the provision of data reduction pipelines.”

UKIRT has been operating at peak productivity, with more than 200 scientific publications annually. This is largely based on a very successful scientific program, which has extended infrared survey imaging to unprecedented depths and areas. Despite UKIRT’s success, its funding agency, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), announced in 2012 that it could no longer continue to support the telescope. This decision followed a review of the UK’s suite of observational capabilities in a tightly constrained financial environment.

Upon the cessation of UK-funded operations, the existing sublease for UKIRT will be terminated. The facility and responsibility for the site, including the telescope, all instruments, associated equipment and software, will transfer to the University of Hawaiʻi.

UH has negotiated a Scientific Cooperation Agreement with the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Space Technology Advanced Research and Development Laboratories to provide for UKIRT’s continued scientific operation, initially using only the large infrared camera used for the survey work. The new operators have also started to refurbish and re-commission several of UKIRT’s other instruments.

Guenther Hasinger, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy said, “We are delighted that UKIRT will continue to produce top quality astronomical research. With a capable new operator and state-of-the-art instrumentation, UKIRT can continue to be a world leader in infrared astronomy for at least 10 more years.”