Gemini Observatory celebrates historic first
Posted: January 22, 2002

The National Science Foundation (NSF) joined its international partners last week 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.

NGC 6357
Gemini South image of NGC 6357. This star forming region in Scorpius was observed with Gemini South using the University of Florida's "Flamingos-I" near-infrared imager/spectrograph, Nidia Morrell P.I. (Argentina). Credit: Gemini Observatory/University of Florida/Nidia Morrell/UNLP-CONICET
"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."

NGC 6369
Gemini South image of NGC 6369. A planetary nebula produced by a star that was once like our Sun. This image was obtained with the "Abu" thermal-infrared camera built by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Credit: Gemini Observatory/NOAO/Abu Team
"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 sunlike star and a spectacular image dubbed "the perfect spiral galaxy."

NS 14
A bi-polar nebula at a distance of 7,500 light-years, the high-mass star formation region NS 14 is also known as RAFGL 5216, BFS 57, and BIP 14. The nebula is excited by four stars in the center and a dense dust lane or torus bisects the nebula. Credit: Gemini Observatory/University of Florida