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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 02-05 - January 18, 2002

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 Peter Michaud

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Gemini Observatory Celebrates Historic First

Photo of Gemini South Observatory
Gemini South and the Chilian Andes
Photo credit: Gemini Observatory Photo
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) joined its international partners today in dedicating Gemini South, the second of the two Gemini telescopes to become operational. From high atop remote mountains in Chile and Hawaii, the twin telescopes for the first time give astronomers access to the entire sky with state-of-the-art 8-meter instruments.

"International ventures such as the Gemini telescopes project are vital to scientific progress," said NSF director Rita Colwell. "Now more than ever, we need these efforts that transcend national boundaries and cultural divides."

NSF provides nearly 50 percent of the Gemini project costs on behalf of the United States and serves as the executive agency for the partnership. The Gemini Observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.

The telescopes, located on both sides of the equator, provide complete sky coverage for astronomers within the seven nations in the Gemini partnership--Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom and the United States. More than 200 representatives from those countries journeyed up the steep dirt road to the summit of Cerro Pachon, Chile, for the dedication of Gemini South.

"About a month ago, we reached a milestone when both Gemini North and Gemini South made observations at the same time but in parts of the sky inaccessible to each other," said Gemini Observatory director Matt Mountain. "Today's dedication celebrates a decade of work by hundreds of people to build these two telescopes that have now become one observatory."

"Now that both of the twin telescopes have begun operations, astronomers throughout the United States will have access to a unique 8-meter resource, no matter what institution they're affiliated with. At NOAO, we're particularly pleased to see Gemini building on the infrastructure and heritage our pioneers have built into NSF's Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory," said Jeremy Mould, director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Ariz., headquarters of the U.S. Gemini Program.

Both Gemini telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors under active control to collect and focus both optical and infrared radiation from space. Adaptive optics correct for the distortions caused by the earth's atmosphere.

Early discoveries from Gemini North, dedicated on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in 1999, include surprising conditions surrounding a supermassive black hole at the core of an active galaxy, and regions of gas and dust circling stars where early planetary systems might be forming.

Other early observations from Gemini have revealed the center of our Milky Way galaxy in unprecedented detail, unexpected conditions at the core of a distant active galaxy, the closest brown dwarf (or failed star) ever imaged around a sun-like star and a spectacular image dubbed "the perfect spiral galaxy."


For more information about discoveries with Gemini, see: www.gemini.edu/media.

For photos of Gemini South and more information about the dedication, see: www.gemini.edu/media/GSDedication/.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of about $4.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states, through grants to about 1,800 universities and institutions nationwide. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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