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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK


Bright hopes for large telescopes

The Gemini project has cost more than £100m

Two new giant telescopes will give astronomers some of the best pictures ever taken of the Universe.

The BBC's Christime McGourty: "The Gemini project is unique"
The Gemini telescopes are perched on mountain tops in Hawaii and Chile. Each has a mirror measuring just over eight metres in diameter.

The large mirrors and some clever electronics combine to make the Gemini telescopes 10 times more powerful than those currently in use.

The observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, which covers the Northern Hemisphere, will take its first pictures this week. Its partner, based at Cerro Pachon, Chile, which covers the Southern Hemisphere, will be operational in a year's time.

They have been built by an international consortium which includes astronomers from the US, the UK, Canada, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. The UK has contributed £30m, roughly a third of the total cost.

Deep and sharp

The Gemini telescopes use state of the art instrumentation to produce some of the deepest and sharpest views ever of the Universe at optical and infrared wavelengths.

[ image: The telescope at Cerro Pachon will come into operation next year]
The telescope at Cerro Pachon will come into operation next year
Gemini will be particularly suited for investigating the origins of stars and galaxies. The dust shrouds of young stars can best be parted at infrared wavelengths, revealing the stars at the earliest epochs of their formation. The telescopes will also enable probes of how the farthest known galaxies were formed and evolved.

Dr Martin Barstow: They will help us understand the fate of the Universe
All this information will help astronomers get a better understanding of how the Universe began and what its eventual fate might be.

"We don't know whether the Universe will go on expanding for ever and ever or if it will slow down and stop and collapse in on itself," says University of Leicester astronomer Dr Martin Barstow.

"That depends a lot on how much matter is out there and looking out into space is a way trying to answer that question."

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