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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Telescope snaps 'perfect spiral'
Gemini Observatory - GMOS Team
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The Gemini North Telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea has taken a remarkable image of a galaxy 30 million light-years distant.


The new instrument took world-class data on its first night, performing perfectly, right out of the box, or at least the 24 crates that brought the two-tonne instrument to Hawaii from Canada and the UK

Dr Matt Mountain
Astronomers say the quality of the image demonstrates the great potential of a new instrument recently attached to the telescope.

The new sensor is called GMOS, or the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph. It is able to record the spectra of hundreds of objects in an image, something that will be useful in many branches of astronomy.

It could be used to survey distant objects near the edge of the observable Universe, as well as exploding stars, or supernovae.

World-class data

The detail seen in the galaxy, designated NGC 628 (or Messier 74), shows clearly many of its features, such as star clusters, gas clouds and dust lanes.

"To be able to routinely see fine details like this in a galaxy more than 30 million light-years away is quite remarkable and helps to give some perspective of what our own galaxy might look like if there were another Gemini-sized telescope looking back at us!" said Gemini North's Associate Director, Dr Jean-Rene Roy.

It is estimated that M 74 is home to about 100 billion stars, making it slightly smaller than our Milky Way.

"The new instrument took world-class data on its first night, performing perfectly, right out of the box, or at least the 24 crates that brought the two-tonne instrument to Hawaii from Canada and the UK," said Gemini Observatory Director, Dr Matt Mountain.

Cosmic history

It is anticipated that GMOS will begin full scientific operations later this year when astronomers from the Gemini partnership begin using the instrument for a wide variety of scientific studies.

"It is extremely exciting to see the wide range of cutting-edge observations already scheduled for GMOS over the next few months," said Gemini Astronomer Dr Inger Jorgensen, who led the instrument's commissioning effort.

Dr Jorgensen added: "I'm most interested in the planned observations of distant galaxy clusters where Gemini is able to work like a time machine and look back in time to study a much younger Universe than we see around us today.

"One area where I think this instrument will excel is in the study of supernovae, or exploding stars in very distant galaxies. Once we can obtain spectra from these stars, we will be able to better understand the apparent acceleration of the Universe."

Professor Roger Davies, from Durham University, is the leader of the UK's GMOS team. He said: "We were able to observe these galaxies as easily as if they were our close neighbours. Now, we'll use this superb spectroscopic data to determine their mass, size and composition, and look back in time to see how they have changed through cosmic history."

See also:

24 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Stellar winds shake distant star
17 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Heart of the Milky Way
28 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Gemini images rival space telescope
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