STFC, NWO and IAC new operation agreement secures future of the William Herschel and Isaac Newton telescopes

The 4.2m William Herschel Telescope on the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma. With its support guaranteed under the new agreement, the WHT will devote a large fraction of observing time to massive spectroscopic surveys concerning the formation of the Milky Way, the evolution of galaxies and the expansion dynamics of the universe. (Credit: Daniel López)

SWINDON, 27-Feb-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — A new agreement has guaranteed continued access to two world-class telescopes for astronomers in the UK.

The future of the William Herschel and Isaac Newton telescopes on La Palma has been secured for the next decade thanks to a new operation agreement between the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the current owner of the telescopes, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC).

STFC and NWO signed the agreement in 2016, and the new arrangement came into effect this week with the final signature from IAC in a ceremony at the headquarters of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) on February 20.

Under the 10-year agreement, telescope time will be shared between the three partners, who will each also contribute toward maintenance costs. The STFC will continue to manage the operation of the telescopes through the ING base on La Palma, which has been in charge of the telescopes since their installation in the mid-1990s.

Speaking about the new agreement Professor Grahame Blair, STFC’s Director of Programmes said “We are very pleased the UK astronomy research community will continue to be a major partner in the far reaching scientific programme of research taking place at the ING. The next decade will be very exciting for UK astronomers working with the ING and the next-generation facility multi-fibre spectrograph known as WEAVE will offer researchers an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the origins of the Milky Way.”

The agreement ensures the continuation of the successful collaboration of the UK and the Netherlands in the operation of telescopes on La Palma, which dates back to 1981, and the extension of the 14-year partnership with IAC. For the William Herschel Telescope, the partners are finalising the construction of WEAVE, a next-generation facility multi-fibre spectrograph, which will be used to help us understand more about the formation of galaxies and the expansion dynamics of the universe. For the Isaac Newton Telescope, a new high-resolution stabilised spectrograph will allow the detection of Earth-like planets around nearby stars.

Notes to editors


Becky Parker
STFC Media Officer
Tel: 07808 879294

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) operates three telescopes on the island of La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands.

They are the:

  • William Herschel Telescope
  • Isaac Newton Telescope
  • Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope

The ING is operated under a tripartite arrangement on behalf of the UK, the Nederlanse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk (NWO) of the Netherlands and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain. The Director of the ING is Dr Marc Balcells.

The ING’s aim is to develop collaboration between astronomers in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain and ensure that, through continual maintenance and development, these telescopes remain at the forefront of world astronomy.

SOURCE: Science and Technology Facilities Council

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