Distressing observation

August 1, 1997

I have first-hand experience of the devastating effect that moves and changes have on observatory personnel as I was a temporary Royal Greenwich Observatory employee at the observatory on La Palma when the last major move of RGO, from Herstmonceux to Cambridge, took place in 1990. Staff morale plummeted. The move coincided with RGO completing and commissioning the William Herschel Telescope, still Britain's most powerful optical facility, resulting in delays and wasted resources.

I find it tragic to be facing an almost identical situation so soon after the move to Cambridge.

Surely it makes far more sense for the council to wait to transfer activities to Edinburgh until it knows whether this is even possible - staff with the relevant expertise may not wish to leave RGO if their telescope-building work is continuing. It should support effort at the appropriate site in coming years and see how staff respond to the post-Gemini era.

If the council will not step back from its decision, then at the very least it should respect the minister's request that the historic institution of the RGO be kept alive if at all possible (I'm sure that does not mean as a museum at Greenwich!) It could do this by seeing that a truly independent RGO is maintained at Cambridge, funded by an income stream that has nothing to do with PPARC.

Phil Charles

Head of astrophysics Oxford University

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