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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK


First pictures from Gemini

Pluto and its moon Charon

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The first image taken by one of the Gemini twin telescopes has delighted astronomers.

It is of the distant planet Pluto and its tiny moon Charon. The quality of the image is as good as that obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope.

It bodes well for the future of these telescopes and the impact they are expected to have on the course of astronomy.

[ image: One of the twin Gemini telescopes]
One of the twin Gemini telescopes
The Gemini telescopes, one in Hawaii and the other in Chile will give astronomers some of the best pictures ever taken of the Universe.

Each Gemini telescope has a mirror measuring just over eight metres in diameter. Combined with some advanced electronics the large mirror makes the telescopes more powerful than those currently in use.

A strange world

Even though it was discovered in 1930 Pluto is still a mysterious world. Its moon, Charon, was only discovered in 1978.

Pluto could be mostly made of ice. Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that its surface is patchy but scientists do not know the nature of the patches.

Pluto is the only world in the solar system that has not been visited by a spaceprobe. Scientists are planning a mission called the Pluto-Kuiper Express which, if it is funded, will complete the exploration of our solar system.

In recent months there has been a debate about Pluto's status as a planet. Most astronomers decided that it is large enough to be a true planet and should not be demoted to the status of a minor body.

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