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RE: Gemini Observatory
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The Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the UKs society for professional astronomers and geophysicists, have expressed their shock at the sudden decision of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to withdraw the UK from the Gemini Observatory.
Gemini consists of two 8-m optical telescopes, one in Hawaii (Gemini North) and one in Chile (Gemini South), which together can be used to observe the entire sky. The two telescopes saw first light in 1999 and 2000 respectively and the UK has been a key partner in the Observatory since its inception. The decision to withdraw from the project appears to have been made without any consultation with the astronomical community.

The RAS Council issued the following statement:

The Royal Astronomical Society is shocked by the STFC's announcement of withdrawal from the Gemini Observatory.  Although we are aware of the shortfall in STFC's funding over the 3 years 2008-11 covered by the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, this sudden announcement without consultation of the community is regrettable.
Although it can be argued that UK astronomers have access to excellent 8-m optical telescopes in the south through its membership of the European Southern Observatory, the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii is crucial for UK astronomers to remain in the front rank of international astronomy.  One example is that the UK is active in a variety of space missions at far infrared, submillimetre and X-ray wavelengths. These space observatories find exciting new objects over the whole sky that need to be followed up at optical wavelengths.
The UK invested about 35 million pounds in the capital phase of the Gemini Observatories, in which we have a 23% stake.  This is being written off to make a saving of the running costs of about 4 million pounds a year.  The damage to UK astronomy this will cause is severe and we urge that at the very least the Gemini agreement be renegotiated to retain access to Gemini North.


"This decision is a serious mistake and a shock to all of us. If it goes ahead it will deny UK scientists access to large telescopes in the northern hemisphere and hinder their ability to study almost half the sky. I call on the STFC to rethink this proposal" - RAS President Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson

Source RAS

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L

Posts: 131433
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Gemini South Observatory
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At the end of April, GNIRS was warmed up for routine cold head service. In the process of servicing the cold heads, the fast warm-up system and vacuum pumps were left on over the weekend; this has always been the normal operating procedure.
The GNIRS fast warm-up system has been used on the order of a dozen times without incident. The system has a completely independent controller that shuts off power to the heater resistors when the temperature set point is reached. It is independent of all other Gemini and GNIRS software. For some unknown reason the controller failed, resulting in continuously heating GNIRS until it reached temperatures near 200° C for an undetermined period of time. The fast warm-up system did not have thermal fuses or circuit breakers.

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L

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RE: Gemini Observatory
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Damage at Gemini South Observatory
The Observatory is sorry to report a very unfortunate incident involving GNIRS. In late April, at the end of the Gemini South shutdown, a failure of a heater control unit resulted in significant damage to the instrument. GNIRS was being warmed up to do work on the cold heads and, following normal procedures, this warm up was accelerated using built-in heaters. Unfortunately, there was a failure in the control unit that resulted in the heaters failing to shut off when the instrument reached room temperature.
The full extent of the damage is being evaluated as we carefully disassemble the instrument. However, at this point it is clear that GNIRS will be unavailable through the end of 2007B. We will post a status report on GNIRS once the instrument has been fully inspected and the extent of the damage is known. The Observatory is committed to restoring GNIRS to service as soon as is practical.
The loss of GNIRS will have a significant impact on the Gemini South 2007A and 2007B queues, so we are issuing a special Call for Proposals to fill in the time that would normally be used by GNIRS. We sincerely regret the impact this will have on the community and to the excellent science that has been coming from GNIRS.

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The recent addition of a field lens in the Altair adaptive optics system at the Gemini Observatory has resulted in a significant improvement in near-infrared imaging capabilities at Gemini North. Altair with the field lens will begin regular science use in semester 2006A.



H band mosaic images of the core of M33 with field lens out (top) and field lens in (bottom). These images obtained on August 18, 2005 under favourable turbulence conditions within a period of 30 minutes. Field of view is 38.0 x 6.5 arcseconds at f/32 using the core of M33 (approximate R magnitude of 14.5) as a guide source.

The lens was installed based on recent turbulence monitoring that demonstrated that about 60% of the turbulence on Mauna Kea occurs close to the ground. Altair was originally designed based on the assumption of a dominant turbulence layer at 6.5 kilometres.

"These results give us a taste of what is coming with our Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics [MCAO] system at Gemini South, in terms of accessible field of view and uniformity of image quality. In addition, MCAO will provide this uniformity over 10 times the field of the M33 images in nearly all seeing conditions" - Dr. François Rigaut, Gemini’s Associate Project Scientist for Adaptive Optics.

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