Future Science at Gemini
New Horizons, New Science, New Tools

Aspen Meeting

Participants at the Aspen Workshop in June 2003, in the process of refining Gemini's future science and instrumentation plans.

Astronomers are some of the most fortunate scientists in the world. After all, we work in a field that has captured humanity's attention and imagination for millennia. Through our marvelous observatories perched high atop mountains, we detect radiation in a myriad of forms, measure its properties, compare it to experiments run on the Earth, and deduce awe inspiring conclusions about the Universe and our place in it.

Gemini, as a forefront astronomical observatory, plays a critical role in the ongoing process to understand our Universe and reveal its nature for everyone to understand. Gemini's current generation of instrumentation has already begun to unravel many mysteries. These include a wide range of studies, from surprising new details on galactic evolution in the early Universe to direct infrared images revealing the telltale impact of a planetary system in a stellar debris disk.

Based on this foundation, the future of Gemini's instrumentation and the exciting science that it enables, is now being defined. It began with the mandate by the Gemini Board in 2001 to initiate a process that would define Gemini's science and instrumentation plan for the next decade. The process culminated in the small resort town of Aspen, Colorado, in June of 2003, when almost 100 scientists and Gemini users came together to discuss future goals. The Aspen conference resulted in the development of the formal science case and a detailed plan for future instrumentation. At its November 2003 meeting, the Gemini Board approved the recommendations of the Aspen conference and now the real work begins.
Aspen Group

The scientists and Gemini users who came together in Aspen, Colorado, in June 2003 to discuss Gemini's future goals.

Key Questions Posed at the Aspen Conference:
  • How do galaxies form?
  • What is the nature of dark matter on galactic scales?
  • What is the relationship between super-massive black holes and galaxies?
  • What is dark energy?
  • How did the cosmic "dark age" end?
  • How common are extra-solar planets, including Earth-like planets?
  • How do star and planetary systems form?
  • How do stars process elements into the chemical building blocks of life?
The results of the so-called "Aspen Process" can be distilled into a few basic questions (listed at left) that Gemini intends to answer starting in the middle of this decade. These questions can be conceptually grouped into three "Universes": Energy, Matter and Life.

The boundaries and interfaces between these topics are perhaps best understood in a piecemeal fashion, similar to the early steps in solving a jigsaw puzzle. Only through detailed future observations will we collect enough pieces to understand the most important links, bridges and gaps in the puzzle, and ultimately complete the picture that represents the Universe that we live within.

The Gemini Observatory is pleased to announce that we are poised to launch a next-generation instrumentation program yielding tools that are more advanced, sensitive, and dramatically more scientifically enabling than anything built to date. This is all driven by the bold expectations of our astronomical community that, in the tradition of science, we can answer still deeper questions about our Universe.

Evolutionary Timeline

An illustration of the major milestones involved in the Universe's evolution from the Big Bang (far left) to life on Earth (far right).

Illustration Credit: Augusto Damineli