Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Gemini images rival space telescope
Definition 'right at the limits'
The sharpest images of the Universe ever taken by a ground-based telescope have been unveiled.
The pictures were recorded by astronomers using the giant Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, which was inaugurated on Friday.
They show stars in a globular cluster 50,000 light years away.
Gemini North is one of a pair of telescopes. Its twin, Gemini South, is being built in Chile and will become operational in a year's time. Together, the two telescopes will offer unparalleled views of the entire sky.
Mounted behind the mirror are 120 "actuators" that constantly adjust the mirror. These adjustments are typically only about 1/10,000 the thickness of a human hair and are enough to keep starlight precisely focused.
The resulting images are as clear as those obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Inside dust clouds
Gemini will be particularly suited for investigating the origins of stars and galaxies.
The enormous light collecting power of each giant mirror will allow Gemini to see fainter objects further away than ever before.
The reflective surface of each mirror is so accurate that if the mirror was the diameter of the earth, the largest defect on its surface would be less than 30cm (1 ft) high.
The two Gemini telescopes have been built by an international consortium which includes astronomers from the US, the UK, Canada, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The UK has contributed a third of the £100m cost.