A rescue package to save the Royal Greenwich Observatory is being prepared by staff a fortnight after closure plans were announced.
The package could mean the 300-year-old RGO stays at its Cambridge site but operates as an independent business, apart from the research councils.
Two weeks ago the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council announced plans to consolidate all British ground-based technical astronomy support at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. This left the fate of what remained at RGO, including staff and libraries, as well as the public understanding of science arm, in question. Preliminary discussions between the National Maritime Museum and PPARC to move what would remain of the RGO to Greenwich were confirmed last week, but were opposed by many RGO staff.
Now Jasper Wall, director of the RGO, has confirmed that the institution may go it alone as a company limited by guarantee. "We are looking at becoming an independent, non-profit organisation outside the research councils run for the common good," he said. Discussions, he added, had begun with Cambridge University, PPARC and the Office of Science and Technology.
"We would hope to provide a service to the British astronomy community with access to our data bases, and to promote the public understanding of science and technology, and astronomy education. We would look to extend that area and tie it into the Millennium Commission," he said.
Dr Wall added that the RGO would continue its international business side, building astronomy equipment for other countries and selling expertise abroad.
"The idea would not be to cut across the consolidation of technical activity at Edinburgh," said Dr Wall. He was confident that sufficient foreign contracts could be signed to keep the observatory going. He added that though staff reduction was inevitable, jobs would be saved. "This is part of the vision we defined two years ago during the aborted privatisation plans. The current situation allows us to re-examine these ideas."
* Letters, page 15