Move over the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Ground-based devices have been catching up in the 13 years since the famous space observatory was launched.
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
The new Gemini telescopes, equipped with advanced instruments, are producing images of deep space that rival the HST's.
A clear view from the surface of the Earth
The Gemini Observatory comprises two large telescopes - one in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the South. Their new imaging spectrograph recently captured images that are among the sharpest ever obtained from the ground.
One Gemini image reveals remarkable details, previously only seen from space, of a group of galaxies located about 400 million light-years away.
"Historically, the main advantage of large ground-based telescopes, like Gemini, is their ability to collect significantly more light than is possible with a telescope in space," says Phil Puxley, Associate Director of the Gemini South Telescope.
"The Hubble Space Telescope is able to do things that are impossible from the ground. However, ground-based telescopes like Gemini, when conditions are right, approach the quality of optical images previously only possible from space," he adds.
GEMINI VS HUBBLE
Ground-based telescopes are catching up with Hubble
The spectacular image of HCG87 was obtained with Gemini's new imaging spectrograph - a device that analyses the component colours of an object in space.
All at once
Bryan Miller of the Gemini Observatory says: "Although the images are spectacular, the instrument is primarily a spectrograph and that is where its capabilities are most significant for scientists."
It is capable of obtaining hundreds of spectra in a single snapshot image of the sky. It is expected to be commissioned and ready for routine observations later this year.
The Gemini operation opened its eyes in 2002
"It used to take an entire night to obtain one spectrum," says Gemini's Inger Jorgensen.
"Now we can collect 50-100 spectra simultaneously. This capability presents unprecedented possibilities for investigating how galaxies formed and evolved in the early Universe."