Fate of RGO unclear

December 19, 1997

The fate of Britain's 300-year-old Royal Greenwich Observatory remains unsettled this week after the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the observatory's current owners, rejected a management plan to go it alone.

PPARC's unanimous decision not to back the management's proposal to run the observatory itself could mean up to 100 job losses. It could result in the RGO, currently in Cambridge, returning in a limited form to Greenwich.

PPARC decided in July to close the Cambridge observatory and to concentrate astronomy technical support in Edinburgh. This would save Pounds 4 million a year.

Speaking after this week's decision, Ken Pounds, PPARC chief executive, said the management plan to form a go-it-alone company was rejected given the costs, uncertainties and risks associated with the company's business plan and the impact on PPARC's overall astronomy programme of diverting funds to the venture.

However, he said there were now several feasible options for the RGO that PPARC would be pursuing.

These are thought to include a move to Greenwich for the name, archives, plate collection and public understanding arm to merge with the National Maritime Museum on the site of the original observatory.

The museum is known to be in talks with PPARC.

Alternatively, RGO could remain in Cambridge as a much- reduced research unit, possibly under the wing of the university.

Jaspar Wall, director of the RGO, said staff were very disappointed and disillusioned by the outcome.

A statement from the observatory added that the RGO would now actively seek sponsorship or support to keep its work going.

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