News from the frontlines continues to be very positive. The TACs have met and telescope time apportioned, and the QuickStart queue results posted on the Gemini Web site. As of this writing (mid-July), the first demon-stration science program on Gemini North has begun (with Hokupa'a and QUIRC), and successful data have been taken over several nights (see accompanying article). The 10-µm demonstration science effort is to occur in August with OSCIR, and the first QuickStart observations for the community are scheduled for September. The performance of the Gemini North telescope system in the early July runs has been very good, and efficiencies and system overheads are being evaluated. Pointing tests with a new model show an rms scatter of 0.6". While there are good and not so good moments, the prognosis looks very encouraging for the early science efforts.
The 75% of the telescope time that is assigned to engineering will also be used to commission NIRI, the University of Hawaii 1-5 µm imager and grism spectrometer (see accompanying instrumentation article). These on-telescope tests begin in August. Many interactions must be analyzed, as this is the first facility instrument Gemini will implement. Near the end of the semester, GMOS should be delivered, and testing of that facility instrument on Gemini North should occupy parts of early 2001. The Gemini North AO system, ALTAIR, is expected a few months later.
On Gemini South, the telescope is being fully wired and assembled, and windshake and dome tests are proceeding. The secondary is due to be aluminized at CTIO in early August, and first light is expected in September or October. The commissioning instrument is the NOAO infrared camera Abu, returned from the SPIREX program at the South Pole. The Gemini South science start is scheduled for June 2001. The first instruments are expected to be an 8-25 µm thermal camera,T-ReCS, and two shared visitor instruments--FLAMINGOS, provided by the University of Florida team led by Richard Elston, and Phoenix, a 1-5 µm high-resolution spectrograph from NOAO, with instrument scientist Ken Hinkle leading the effort.
The Gemini personnel and science staffs continue to be assembled, and the first astronomers are arriving in Chile; two Gemini fellows and a staff astronomer have recently docked in La Serena. While they and the telescope have experienced a chilling (and snow covered) Chilean winter, the southern effort remains significantly ahead of schedule.