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CSIRO spells out cash-strapped astronomy future

Parkes, Narrabri slimmed down and SKA will have to do without a Chief Scientist

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Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has explained how it plans to trim its astronomy work, after more than AUD$100 million was cut from its budget.

With around 17 per cent, or AUD$3.5 million, sliced from its already-slender astronomy budget, the agency has just $AUD17 million to work with for the 2014-2015 financial year.

In its news blog, the agency's director of astronomy and space science Lewis Ball outlines the CSIRO response.

Fans of the Parkes radiotelescope will be pleased to know that it will remain in operation, but with its flexibility for different science activities constrained by cuts to the facility's staff.

For at least the next six to 12 months, Parkes will only be able to operate at two wavelengths, because the facility won't have the staff needed to swap the detector systems in the “focus cabin” to pick up different wavelengths.

There's a small sigh of relief for users of the Narrabri facility, the Australia Telescope Compact Array: it's spared closure, but with reduced staff meaning it, too, will be on restricted wavelengths. Astronomers hankering for a week in the country will be disappointed, though: all operations of the facility will be conducted remotely, either at the CSIRO's Sydney operations centre or over Internet connections.

Remote operations were already in place for the Parkes dish.

Even the Square Kilometre Array project isn't completely immune from the cuts: among the staff cutbacks and decisions to leave positions unfilled, CSIRO says it will not be going ahead with plans to appoint an SKA Chief Scientist. ®

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