NGC 628

Photo Credit: “Gemini Observatory – GMOS Team” High resolution images & caption

After seven years of design and construction but only two weeks of
commissioning, a remarkable first light image was obtained with a new
state-of the-art instrument at the Gemini North Telescope on Hawaii’s
Mauna Kea. The image of the large galaxy in Pisces called NGC 628 (or
Messier 74) has been called the “Perfect Spiral Galaxy” due to its
nearly ideal form, which is clearly revealed in this new image.

Named GMOS or the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph, the instrument
that took the image is primarily designed for spectroscopic studies
where several hundred simultaneous spectra are required, such as when
observing star and galaxy clusters. However, as the dramatic new
image demonstrates, GMOS also has the ability to focus beautiful
astronomical images on its huge array of over 28 million
ultra-sensitive pixels. When combined with Gemini’s 8.1-meter main
mirror, the GMOS first-light image of this spiral galaxy leaves no
doubt about the instrument’s potential on Gemini. See the high resolution images page
to download high resolution versions of this striking image.

The instrument’s first light image of the galaxy that is number 74 in
Charles Messier’s catalogue of celestial show-pieces (a.k.a. M-74),
clearly shows many features of the galaxy such as star clusters, gas
clouds and dust lanes. Some of these objects are similar to what we
can see in our own Milky Way with the naked eye or a small telescope
on a clear moonless night. “To be able to routinely see fine details
like this in a galaxy more than 30 million light years away is quite
remarkable and helps to give some perspective of what our own galaxy
might look like if there were another Gemini sized telescope looking
back at us!” says Gemini North’s Associate Director Dr. Jean-Rene Roy.
It is estimated that M-74 is home to about 100 billion stars making it
slightly smaller than our Milky Way.

“This instrument took world-class data on its first night on the sky
performing perfectly, right out of the box, or at least the 24 crates
that brought the 2-ton instrument to Hawaii from Canada and the UK,”
said Gemini Observatory Director Dr. Matt Mountain. “This is a
considerable testament to the professionalism, planning and teamwork
of the multi-national group of astronomers and engineers from the
Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada, the UK’s Astronomy
Technology Center and Durham University (UK) who were able to build
this instrument and commission it with our staff so successfully here
on Mauna Kea. This type of multi-disciplined, multi-national effort
represents a new and powerful way to do world-class observational
astrophysics,” continued Dr. Mountain.

The instrument was built as a joint partnership between Gemini, Canada
and the UK at a cost of about $5 million. Separately, the
U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory provided the detector
subsystem and related software.

Rick Murowinski from Canada’s National Research Council’s (NRC)
Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA) served as Canada’s Project
Manager and Systems Engineer for this ambitious project from its
inception in 1994. Murowinski said, “It’s been a long project with
selfless effort by many people, but to be able to see this instrument
finally come together at the telescope, to see it work properly and
immediately, is really wonderful! The Canadian and British team who
conceived, designed and built this instrument is justifiably very
proud of what we’ve accomplished together!”

It is anticipated that GMOS will begin full scientific operations
later this year when astronomers from the 7-country Gemini partnership
begin using the instrument for a wide variety of scientific studies.
“It is extremely exciting to see the wide range of cutting-edge
observations already scheduled for GMOS over the next few months,”
said Gemini Astronomer Dr. Inger Jorgensen, who led the instrument’s
commissioning effort. Dr. Jorgensen also said, “I’m most interested
in the planned observations of distant galaxy clusters where Gemini is
able to work like a time machine and look back in time to study a much
younger universe than we see around us today.”

The UK’s Dr. Isobel Hook, who helped obtain the instrument’s first
multi-object spectroscopic data, said, “The first spectra produced by
GMOS were brilliant! When you combine GMOS with Gemini’s resolution
and great light gathering power we are able to study details that
would otherwise be lost. One area where I think this instrument will
excel is in the study of supernova, or exploding stars in very distant
galaxies. Once we can obtain spectra from these stars we will be able
to better understanding the apparent acceleration of the universe.”

Dr. Bob Abraham from the University of Toronto in Canada is eagerly
looking forward to using GMOS on the Gemini North telescope. Abraham
said, “To properly study distant galaxies, an instrument like GMOS
needs to be mounted on a efficient large telescope that delivers
exquisite image quality. Gemini is the first large telescope designed
from the ground up to deliver on these requirements. GMOS is a dream
instrument on a dream telescope.”

Professor Roger Davies from Durham University in the north-east of
England is the leader of the UK’s GMOS team. He obtained some early
scientific demonstration data that will soon be released to
astronomers. For this observation, the light from individual galaxies
in a distant, massive swarm of galaxies was collected.

According to Davies, “We were able to observe these galaxies as easily
as if they were our close neighbors. Now we’ll use this superb
spectroscopic data to determine their mass, size and composition and
look back in time to see how they have changed through cosmic
history. The combination of Gemini’s tremendous light collecting power
and the technology of GMOS allowed us to obtain phenomenal data only a
few days after the instrument was installed on the telescope. I can
see that this instrument is going to keep astronomers very busy and
extremely happy for a long time!”

More information and images can be obtained at the high resolution images
. B-Roll footage, animations and high-resolution still images
of Gemini are also available by contacting the media contact above.

The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration that has
built two identical 8-meter telescopes. The telescopes are located at
Mauna Kea, Hawaii (Gemini North) and Cerro PachÛn in central Chile
(Gemini South), and hence provide full coverage of both hemispheres of
the sky. Both telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow
large, relatively thin mirrors under active control to collect and
focus both optical and infrared radiation from space. Gemini North has
begun science operations and Gemini South is scheduled to begin
scientific operations in late 2001.

The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in each
partner country with state-of-the-art astronomical facilities that
allocates observing time in proportion to each country’s
contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also
contributes significant scientific and technical resources. 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 InvestigaciÛn
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 Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq). The
Observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research
in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF.
The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international