Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Tale of Two Telescopes

Those familiar with sky probably know of Castor and Pollux the Gemini Twins. Well, there is another pair of Gemini twins in the Universe and those are the twin 8-meter telescopes operated by the Gemini ObservatoryGemini NorthGemini is unique in having telescopes in both the northern and southern hemispheres giving astronomers access to the complete sky.

The Gemini Observatory runs two of the world's largest telescopes, Gemini North (located on the extinct volcano Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii) and Gemini South (located at Cerro Pachon, in the Chilan Andes). These telescopes use the latest technologies to achieve the best performance possible. The Gemini telescopes are optimized for both image quality and performance in the mid-infrared.

Image quality refers to the sharpness of the stars imaged by the telescope. The earth's atmosphere naturally blurs slightly images taken by telescopes. However, astronomers have developed a technique called adaptive optics which mostly corrects for this blurring effect.

Gemini South

Mid-infrared astronomy is very challenging. Think of it as trying to look through an optical telescope at mid-day on a snowy field which reflects all of the sunlight. The problem is that everything on the telescope is emitting at the wavelengths at which you are trying to observe. Gemini has taken great precautions to ensure that as little of the telescope emission finds its way into the camera. The two Gemini telescopes are the best performing telescopes on the planet today.

Don't worry if you are unable to visit either of the Gemini telescopes. There is a Virtual Tour available on CD for the cost of an e-mail.

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