SUPPORT FOR ASTRONOMY
The extent of the support being given to astronomy in Britain was outlined by Mrs Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science, when she addressed the Fourteenth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Brighton today (18 August). Mrs Thatcher said:
“During practically the whole long history of astronomy, observations were limited to wavelengths extending only just beyond the visible spectrum. Little was known or could be anticipated in other parts of the spectrum. During the last twenty years, however, the range of wavelengths observable from the earth's surface or from space vehicles has been extended by successive steps. It is difficult to realise now that radio astronomy is not yet twenty-five years old. Within that short span the radio astronomers have dramatically extended man's basic knowledge of the universe and there can be little doubt that a great deal remains for them to do. Large radio facilities now exist or are being provided in many countries and we are proud to have in this country two world ranking centres of radio astronomy.
“By moving the observing platform beyond the earth's atmosphere, with the use of space vehicles over the past decade, much new knowledge is beginning to be discovered in the ultra violet and X-ray regions. And now initial steps in the infra red and millimetre regions seem at least as promising. Every past entry to new regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, particularly to radio waves, has dramatically extended our knowledge and understanding. There is every reason to foresee comparable dramatic extensions as a result of exploration of the ultra violet, X-ray, infra red and millimetre regions.
“I would like to say something of the relevant work in this country for which I am departmentally responsible through the Science Research Council, which was created in 1965 and took over previously dispersed responsibilities for two world famous establishments and an important source of knowledge and expertise. The first of these is the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux, now approaching its tercentenary and the home since 1968 of the 98-inch Isaac Newton Telescope. The Observatory also controls the Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope and, more recently, the Radcliffe Observatory in Pretoria. The second establishment is the Royal Observatory Edinburgh with its out-station near Rome, under happy arrangements for collaboration with the University there. The third acquisition of the Science Research Council was support [end p1] of university astronomers including theoreticians, those active in the optical and radio parts of the spectrum and those using space vehicles for investigations in the ultra violet and X-ray regions.
“Soon after its creation the Science Research Council declared a policy of giving priority to astronomy. This has been implemented by raising from 20 per cent to 27 per cent the part of the increasing total of the Council's resources which is allocated to its Astronomy, Space and Radio Board of which Sir Bernard Lovell is the Chairman. Converting those resources to projects has involved commitment to such major projects as participation with our Australian partners in the construction of the 150-inch Anglo-Australian Telescope; the undertaking of a 5km radio telescope for Sir Martin Ryle 's Group at Cambridge University; and a major up-grading of the 250 ft radio telescope of Sir Bernard Lovell 's Group at Manchester University.
“Then there are a 60-inch flux collector in the infra red now under construction and various rocket and satellite projects in the ultra violet and X-ray regions, some national, some in membership of the European Space Research Organisation and some in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And in the theoretical field the Science Research Council has participated, with private Foundations and the Universities of Cambridge and Sussex, in building up theoretical astronomy at those Universities. There are many other interesting projects at various stages of planning.
“I have gone into this detail to demonstrate the extent of the support being accorded to astronomy in this country. We hope in this way to play a full part in the advances which can be confidently expected in the years to come.”