Lick Observatory shuts down Shane and Nickel Operations
Dear UC Observatories Community,
We have been monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis and reacting accordingly, as the situation has been rapidly changing.
Our very highest priority is to protect the health and safety of the 27 people who live at Lick.
As a result, we have taken a series of actions:
1) March 14th: Lick Observatory shut down all public outreach and visitor activities due to the COVID-19 crisis, until further notice.
2) March 17: All travel to Lick Observatory by UC astronomers/staff was banned until further notice. All observing was required to be remote.
3) As of tomorrow, March 26th: We will close Shane and Nickel telescope operations until further notice. However we will continue to operate, in a reduced-risk mode, the robotic telescopes (e.g. APF, KAIT, PANOSETI, CAMS.). In the remote chance that human intervention is needed, the very occasional involvement of staff on Mount Hamilton will be consistent with orders from Santa Clara County, from the Governor of California, and from UC.
As we said above, our highest priority is the safety of the 27 residents of Mount Hamilton. We will continue to provide the Mount Hamilton community with safe water, power, heat, and access to mail and the internet. This requires that some of the infrastructure staff continue to work a few hours every day, consistent with the exceptions for essential activities in the current order to Shelter in Place. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported among our staff.
Our next priority is protecting and maintaining the considerable infrastructure of Lick Observatory. This requires a few of the operations staff to work a few hours each day to inspect the domes and maintain any critical scientific equipment in a safe (but shutdown) mode.
With these two priorities in place, we can address our third priority, providing access to OIR observing facilities consistent with the government's current orders. We have to balance science operations with the safety of the staff and state's requirement to shelter in place except for essential functions. This also means we have to be aware that we hold the public's trust in the operations of our facility.
A reasonable argument could be made that astronomical research is not an essential function in a time of crisis. As such we are closing down the Shane and Nickel science operations, as of Thursday March 26, until we can be sure there is no effective risk from COVID-19 and we are not abusing the public trust.
We will continue to operate, in a reduced risk mode, the robotic telescopes located at Lick Observatory as long as they can be consistent with orders from Santa Clara County, the Governor of California, and UC.
We will continue to monitor this very fluid situation and will keep our UC astronomy community fully informed of any updates.
Claire E. Max
Director, University of California Observatories