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achievement. The day the SERC stated its intention

divided on the issue of the telescope design. The

to join the partnership is one of Davies and Roche’s

two main ideas being discussed were a scaled-up

most special memories, a point when their years of

version of the Royal Greenwich Observatory’s

hard work had finally paid off. They, together with

William Herschel Telescope, and an innovative

their families, celebrated the event at Davies’ East

infrared-optimized telescope design being proposed

Oxford home. During this time, Matt Mountain (then

by Frederick C. Gillett and Frank Low. The latter

at UKIRT) made a timely phone call to enquire about

design was not primed for wide-field survey science,

the outcome of the meeting with SERC. In response,

which had historically been a strong and active area

Mountain simply heard the “pop” as Roche opened a

of research by the U.K. community. At a meeting

bottle of champagne!

in Oxford (see article in this issue pg. 42), host of the U.K. Large Telescope Project Office and later to

The international agreement was signed about

host the U.K. Gemini Support Group, the Gemini

18 months later and the emergence of this new

Partnership made the pivotal decision to adopt the

alliance sparked media interest. A plethora of articles

Gillett and Low design, understandably causing

appeared in the major U.K. Newspapers (the Times,

some discontent in the U.K. community. However,

the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Financial

as Davies explained, “The fundamental issue was

Times). Most notably, the media coverage included a

to maximize the performance of the telescope, in

leader in the Times on August 4, 1993, entitled “Per

particular exploiting the key uniqueness of the Mauna

Astra ad Ardua” (a play on the motto of the Royal Air

Kea site in delivering exceptional image quality.”

Force) that described the scientific promise of the Gemini Observatory. It is rare, perhaps only once

Gillett and Low’s innovative design provided the

in a lifetime, that astronomers see the fruits of their

means to achieve this goal and ultimately resulted

labor presented in such a public arena. It was a just

in Gemini’s excellent performance in this regime.

reward for the efforts invested by many individuals,

The design was unlike any other large telescope at

including Davies, Roche, and the members of the

the time. The prioritization of infrared image quality

UKLTP, to secure this path for U.K. astronomy.

determined all aspects of the telescope design. This included the primary mirror being positioned close

Davies feels that his greatest contribution to the

to the elevation axis, without Nasmyth foci, but with

development of the Gemini telescopes was the

a Cassegrain focus. It also included the undersized

critical role he played in forging the partnership. The

secondary mirror, silver-coated primary mirror, and

early nineties were turbulent times with discord in

immense dome vent gates which allow air to flow

the U.K. astronomical community. The indecision

freely over the mirror. Davies said, “This [Gemini] is

of SERC, as well as setbacks such as Canada’s

a revolutionary design. Every aspect of the telescope

withdrawal threatened the partnership. After some

is aimed at delivering outstanding image quality and

delicate negotiations Canada rejoined and the U.S.

sensitivity in the infrared.” In essence, the Gemini

brought in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina, which finally

telescopes encapsulate Bahcall’s vision of the “Decade

established the current Gemini partnership. In 1998,

of the Infrared.”

Davies’s connections with the Australian astronomical community helped to bring in a new partner and an

From a technical viewpoint, achieving the image

additional 5% cash injection into the Gemini project.

quality requirements and low emissivity goals have been the most challenging issues in Gemini’s design.

The telescope concept quickly began to take form in

It is this prioritization, and the fact that it is possible

the years that followed. However, it was a continuing

to achieve good image quality, that has influenced

source of contention in the community, Davies recalled.

the way people think about requirements for future

Controversially, in the case of the primary mirror,

ground-based facilities.

the newly formed Gemini partnership rejected the Angel concept (approved for the NNTT) in favor of

In addition, Gemini has been at the forefront of

procurement from the commercial supplier Corning,

adaptive optics research and development. Both

causing outrage in the U.S. community.

active and adaptive optics have been ingrained

In the U.K., Davies recalled that the community was

within Gemini’s design, culminating in 2006 in the

June2009

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Issue 38 - June 2009  

GeminiFocus