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Current Science at NOAO

Gemini South Mirror Delivered to Remote Chilean Mountain Top

Stan Hart, NOAO RET

Gemini South primary mirror floating on a transport barge in front of the Eiffel Tower on the Seine River.

June, 2000  |  The Gemini primary mirror has been delivered on time and without incident to the Cerro Pachón, Chile, where on March 18 it passed its initial optical inspection. The Gemini mirror began its voyage almost 15,000 miles ago at Corning Incorporated in Canton, N.Y., where it was fused from 23 metric tons of Corning's Ultra-Low Expansion (ULE) glass. Astronomers like ULE glass for telescopes because it does not easily expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. From Corning, it traveled by ship to REOSC just south of Paris, where it was polished to a surface so smooth that if the mirror were enlarged to the size of the United States, no hill would be larger than a speed bump!

The Gemini South primary mirror makes it's way up Cerro Pachón, with The Gemini South Telesope dome in the background.

After traveling in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, through the Panama Canal and up a steep, narrow mountain road to a remote peak in Chile, one of the world's largest astronomical telescope mirrors arrived safely at the Gemini South Observatory on March 17th, 2000. The mirror, which can collect more light than two million human eyes, is the heart of the Gemini South Telescope on Cerro Pachón, a mountain in central Chile. The telescope will soon join its identical twin, on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, to provide extremely high-resolution images of the universe. Together the two telescopes will provide total sky coverage.

Astronomers from the seven country Gemini Partnership will use the telescopes to answer fundamental questions ranging from the formation of stellar and planetary systems to the fate and evolution of our universe. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Cientifica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and the Brazilian Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas Cientificas e Tecnológicas (CNPq). The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) manages the observatory under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.

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