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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 00:50 GMT
Gemini opens its eyes
Gemini
The Gemini South telescope against a backdrop of stars
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

What will be one of the world's premier telescopes has officially opened its eyes.


It reveals many new and interesting structures in unprecedented detail

Dr Patrick Roche, UK Gemini Project Scientist
Perched on the desolate summit of Cerro Pachon in the Chilean Andes, at a height of 2,737 metres (8,895 feet), the Gemini South telescope is an identical twin of Gemini North in Hawaii.

The two telescopes, located each side of the equator, will enable astronomers to view the entire sky in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

The Gemini telescopes, in which UK astronomers have almost a quarter share, have been designed to produce extremely sharp images of the Universe in the infrared waveband.

Unprecedented detail

Viewing in the infrared enables scientists to see through the cosmic dust that obscures star forming regions and the cores of violent galaxies.

Gemini South, Gemini Observatory/NOAO/NSF
From Gemini South's testing phase: The Circinus Galaxy
Each telescope has a mirror with a light-collecting area 10 times the light-gathering power of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Coupled with an adaptive optics system that compensates for distortions introduced by the Earth's turbulent atmosphere, the telescopes will produce images as sharp as those from space.

Commenting on the dedication of Gemini South, Professor Ian Halliday, of the UK astronomy funding body, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PParc), said: "This is a significant day for the Gemini telescopes and for the entire UK astronomy community. Britain is the second largest partner in the seven-country Gemini consortium.

Deeper than ever

"By taking a leading role in such international projects, PParc ensures that UK scientists have access to world-class facilities, enabling them to participate at the frontier of global astronomy research and discovery."

Gemini South, Gemini
The UK has a major share in the project
Gemini Project Director, Dr Matt Mountain, said: "About a month ago, we reached a milestone when both Gemini North and Gemini South made observations at the same time but in different parts of the sky invisible to each other."

Dr Patrick Roche, UK Gemini Project Scientist, added: "I have been fortunate to receive some of the early infrared images of star fields in Orion, which reach deeper than any other previous observations of the region.

"It reveals many new and interesting structures in unprecedented detail. We now look forward to a long and productive phase of scientific exploration."

Gemini
With adaptive optics and advanced electronics, it is ready for business
 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Astronomers will be able to look back in time"
Dr Rob Ivison of the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh
"These telescopes can look as far back as 10 billion years ago"
The BBC's Corinne Podger
"Ten times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope"
See also:

17 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Heart of the Milky Way
12 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
British astronomy faces shake-up
23 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Telescope snaps 'perfect spiral'
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