For the first time, we are asking for the community to vote for their favourite cosmological object from among four categories: Nebulae, Individual Galaxy, Galaxy Pair, Planetary Nebulae. We have selected several of these kinds of object that have very little known about them, and have never been observed with the most powerful telescopes. This is your chance to find out something unknown about them with completely new observations!
All you have to do is vote for your favourite object. The one with the most votes will be given to Gemini observatory, who will take images of it, and allow all voters to see live video feeds, updates, and eventually the final images! We are excited to open up the inaugural Australian Gemini Cosmic Poll for anyone to learn & be part of exploring the magic of our universe.
Who can vote?
Voting is open to the public until November 15. Simply login to Thinkable and click 'Vote' for your favourite object.
The Winning Object
On November 15, the winning object will be announced on this page and a notification will be sent to all voters.
What is Gemini?
The Gemini Observatory is an international partnership. Seven countries (Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) combined together to build and run two of the world's largest and most powerful 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). The two telescopes are virtually identical, and together they provide astronomers coverage of the whole sky, north and south. Gemini North began doing science in 2000. Gemini South made its first science observations in the latter part of 2001. At the end of 2012 the United Kingdom withdrew from the Gemini partnership.
Why the Name?
The telescopes are named after the constellation Gemini, "The Twins" because there are two identical, twin telescopes.
Who Owns Gemini?
Giant modern telescopes such as Gemini North and Gemini South cost around A$100 million or more each. As such, they are too expensive for most universities or individual countries to own and operate. Instead, they are typically built and run by international consortia. Gemini is built and run by an international partnership of Australia, the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and (prior to 2013) the UK. It has two offices, one in Hilo, Hawaii, the other in La Serena, Chile.
Astronomers and engineers from all these countries helped design and build the telescopes, and astronomers from all these countries get to use them. Each partner country has a national Gemini office which supports users in that country.
The Gemini Observatory partners, funding agencies, and partner shares are currently:
USA (National Science Foundation) - 56.8%
Canada (National Research Council) - 17.6%
Australia (Australian Research Council) - 6.7%
Brazil (Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação) - 5.7%
Argentina (Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva) - 3.3%
The partner share of each country reflects how much they pay towards building and running the telescopes, and determines the share of the telescope time that astronomers from that country get.
In addition, 5% of the telescope time goes to Gemini staff, 2% to the Director of the Gemini Observatory for Discretionary Time proposals, and 10% to the telescope hosts, in return for providing the telescopes their homes: the University of Hawaii for Gemini North, and Chile for Gemini South. Some telescope time is also reserved for engineering work, commissioning new instruments, and as a reward for instrument builders.
Why are the Gemini telescopes important?
Gemini is the only pair of telescopes giving full coverage of both the northern and southern skies. The telescope locations are superb. Mauna Kea is the best observing site in the Northern Hemisphere. At 4200 meters, it towers above 40% of the Earth's atmosphere and most of the atmospheric water vapour that hinders infrared observing. Cerro Pachón, 2700 meters high, sits within the dry mountains of the Atacama desert.
With light-collecting mirrors 8.1 m in diameter, the Gemini twins are among the world's largest telescopes working at optical and infrared wavelengths. Just as you can make photographs from visible light, you can use detectors to make images from infrared "light". Infrared radiation allows astronomers to see through the smoky dust particles that wreathe forming stars and many other parts of our Galaxy.
The Gemini telescopes are the best in the world for making infrared images, and are capable of making pictures even clearer than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. This is made possible by new technologies ("adaptive optics") that allow the telescopes to compensate for the distortion of light as it passes through the Earth's atmosphere.
Gemini observations will help answer questions about how stars and planets form, the structure of the Milky Way and other galaxies, and the age and evolution of the Universe.
What's the magnification of the Gemini Telescopes?
In good conditions, the Gemini telescopes can magnify things about 2000 times.
But this isn't really the right question to ask. You could easily build even a lousy telescope with a similar magnification, and many retail stores sell telescopes just like this. But these telescopes just magnify a small blurry picture into a bigger blurry shaky picture: you don't see anything new. What really matters is how much detail you can see in the pictures taken by a telescope. With the human eye, if your eyesight is good you can make out details as small as 0.03 degrees (120 arc-seconds). A good pair of binoculars will drop this to around 12 arc-seconds. A good amateur telescope will do much better (though many telescope sold in non-specialist shops don't): you'll usually be limited not by the telescope but by blurring in the atmosphere, to around 1-2 arcsec. Gemini gets around 0.5 arcsec regularly, and with adaptive optics can get images as sharp as 0.05 arcsec.
How far can you see with the Gemini Telescopes?
About 12 billion light years, so far. But again this isn't really the right question to ask. The universe is transparent, so even a small telescope can see things practically all the way back to the Big Bang, if only they are bright enough. Where Gemini wins is that it can see things much fainter than is possible with smaller telescopes, and can see them in more detail.
The current distance record holders are quasars and galaxies around 12 billion light years away, but a more distant object may be found at any time, and even if it is discovered by some other telescope, Gemini is sure to be used to study it.
What are the Gemini mirrors made of?
The Gemini telescopes collect light with mirrors, not lenses. Each telescope has an 8.1-m diameter "primary" mirror to collect and focus the light as it comes in from space, and a smaller "secondary" mirror to further focus the collected light. A Gemini primary mirror collects as much light as 2.5 million human eyes! Each primary mirror starts out as a "blank" consisting of 42 hexagonal blocks of ultra-low-expansion glass, fused into one large, thin disk. The blank is polished to extreme smoothness. If the mirror were the diameter of the earth, the largest bump on it would be less than 30 cm high!
The glass mirror blank is coated with a layer of metal only 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair. The mirror must be recoated every few months. The coating can be aluminium (standard for most telescope mirrors) or silver. The unique silver coating gives a much better performance at infrared wavelengths. The Gemini primary mirrors are only about 20 cm thick. They can be distorted by thermal effects (heat flows) or by gravity when the telescopes tilt. To maintain their precise shape, 120 "actuators" gently push and pull the mirrors back into perfect form. These adjustments are typically only about 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair.
How big are the Gemini domes?
Each of the Gemini Observatory domes is over 15 stories (45 m) high and weighs more than 600 tonnes. When a Gemini telescope is in use, 10-m wide vents open at the base of its dome to regulate the air temperature above the mirror. This lets the telescope make sharper images.
How much does Gemini cost?
The construction budget for both Gemini telescopes was US$193 million. The annual cost of running the two telescopes is about $US10 million, of which some US$4 million a year is spent on developing new instruments for the telescopes. Each night of observing on a Gemini telescope is worth about US$33,000.
How does Gemini compare with the Hubble Space Telescope?
A large state-of-the-art ground-based telescope such as Gemini can be built for about a thirtieth of the cost of the Hubble Space Telescope. When equipment fails in space it is expensive to replace: each Space Shuttle flight costs about US$500 million. In addition, the time lag between designing the instruments and launching them can mean that some technologies have become dated by the time they are used in space.
It is difficult to launch into orbit a telescope with a mirror larger than 4 m in diameter. An 8-m telescope such as Gemini is about 10 times more sensitive to light than a 4-m telescope. A big, sensitive telescope is essential for certain kinds of work, such as studying the light of faint stars and distant galaxies to determine their properties (such as mass, age and chemical composition).
New technology known as "adaptive optics" means that ground-based telescopes can virtually wipe out the effects of the Earth's atmosphere on starlight, making pictures that can be sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.