Report of the Visiting Committee
on Astronomy in IsraelTo the Israel Academy of science and Humanities
A committee was appointed by the Israeli Academy of sciences and Humanities to assess the status of observational astronomy in Israel, and the degree to which national astronomy as a whole could benefit from participation in the GranTeCan (GTC) 10 meter telescope facility located in the Canary Islands.
The committee included: Prof. G. T. Miley, director, Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands; Prof. J. D. Bekenstein, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Prof. R. S. Ellis, Director, Palomar Observatory, California Institute of Technology.
Original terms of reference of the committee:
1. To evaluate the quality and potential of astronomy research in Israel in comparison with the rest of the world.
2. To study the proposal of the National Center of Astronomy and assess its investment and suitability to the requirements of Israel.
3. To advise Israel on joining the GranTeCan telescope facility in Spain, its essence value and advantage to the Israeli scientific community in comparison with other telescope facilities.
4. To recommend to the Israel Academy whether to accept the proposal for a National Center of Astronomy and membership in the GranTeCan telescope facility, and to advise on the steps and procedures for accomplishment.
Conclusions and Recommendations:
1. Israel needs access to a large optical/IR telescope if it is to continue research in mainstream observational astronomy.
2. We strongly endorse the goals of the proposal that was presented to us, namely to provide modern competitive observational facilities for Israeli astronomy. However, it is important that the necessary funding should not come at the expense of support for the many excellent theoretical research programs in Israeli astronomy.
3. Of the several options we considered, membership of ESO is the only presently viable alternative to the GranTeCan participation. A decision between these options is urgent.
4. The consequence of taking no immediate action is that observational astronomy in Israel will become non-competitive internationally and will almost certainly decline into insignificance.
5. Israel should consider devoting substantially more funds to astronomy, which is obviously under-funded. Also, it can play an inspirational role in education, persuading young people to embark on a scientific career.
6. The provision of some additional funding for astronomy postdocs would be cost- effective in ensuring optimal exploitation of new observational facilities
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