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About the Director
JAC Divisions
Contact Info
About the JAC

An Introduction to the
Joint Astronomy Centre

Joint Astronomy Centre (JAC)

The Joint Astronomy Centre (JAC) is located in Hilo, on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The JAC operates two telescopes on Mauna Kea: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). The altitude and the dryness make Mauna Kea the premier site for ground-based astronomy in the northern hemisphere. Both telescopes are at an altitude of roughly 4100 metres (14,000 feet), where the skies are clear and dark, and are above much of the water vapour in the atmosphere, which absorbs submillimetre and infrared radiation from space. A dry site at high altitude suffers less absorption, so faint stars and galaxies can be seen.

The JAC is an establishment of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) of the United Kingdom. STFC provides funds to the JAC for the UK share of the JCMT. The JAC also receives contributions from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) towards operation of the JCMT. UKIRT is currently in a transitional phase towards new ownership. The JAC has a staff complement of roughly 50 local and international staff. The workforce is divided into five divisions: one operations division for each telescope, and three divisions for common support services (engineering, software & computer services, and administration).

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT)

With a 15-m dish, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) is the largest telescope in the world dedicated to submillimetre astronomy. Submillimetre radiation, a form of light which lies between infrared light and radio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, is used to study the coldest material in the Universe, such as interstellar clouds of gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

SCUBA-2, the JCMT's newest instrument, will be the most powerful camera of its kind. New technology and novel design mean it will map the sky up to 1000 times faster than its predecessor. HARP is an instrument which combines a camera and a spectrometer to study the chemistry of interstellar gas, its temperature, density and motion. Ambitious survey projects using these instruments will revolutionize our understanding of how the planets, stars and galaxies were born and evolved into the Universe we see today.

The JCMT is funded by the UK and Canada. It was opened in April 1987.

United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT)

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) is the world's largest telescope dedicated exclusively to observations in the infrared region of the spectrum. UKIRT studies everything from young stars, the interstellar medium, and mysterious brown dwarfs, to the most distant galaxies at the edge of the universe. The telescope’s primary mirror, 3.8 metres in diameter, is of extremely high quality, and an extensive program of upgrades has allowed UKIRT to take full advantage of the excellent conditions on Mauna Kea.

UKIRT has one operational instrument, called WFCAM (the Wide Field Camera). WFCAM covers two tenths of a square degree of sky in a single exposure, allowing UKIRT to carry out its current extremely ambitious survey of the infrared sky - the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS).

UKIRT is currently in a transitional phase towards new ownership. It was opened in October 1979.

Contact: JAC webmasters. Updated: Tue Dec 31 10:40:52 HST 2013

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