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On-sky Laser Propagation at Gemini South!

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Image of the Gemini South laser propagation team. The team is standing under a large telescope dome with a laser pointed towards it. A metal enclosure containing the laser equipment is visible to the right of the team. Team members are identified from left to right in the caption.

Figure 1. Gemini South laser propagation team with the laser shining on the dome overhead and the laser enclosure to the right. Teammembers from left to right: Francois Rigaut, Benoit Neichel, Matthieu Bec, Andrew Serio, Camila Durán, Carlos Segura, Vanessa Montes, Maxime Boccas, Tomislav Vucina, Gelys Trancho, Vincent Fesquet and Celine D'Orgeville. Gemini photo by Manuel Paredes.

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A view of the Gemini South telescope on a night with a bright gibbous moon. A laser beam shoots up into the sky from the telescope enclosure. This image was taken with a fisheye lens.

Figure 2. The Gemini South telescope on the night of January 21-22, 2011 during the first propagation of the GeMS laser guide star system on the sky. A bright gibbous moon illuminates the landscape for this 20-second fisheye lens view. Gemini photo by Manuel Paredes.

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Image of the Canopus adaptive optics system being lowered onto a cart for installation on the Gemini South telescope. The system appears as a large cylindrical object.

Figure 3.The Canopus adaptive optics system is lowered onto a lifting cart for installation on the Gemini South telescope in preparation for on-sky commissioning of the laser guide star system in January of 2011. Gemini photo by Manuel Paredes.

On the night of January 21-22, 2011 the Gemini South 50-watt laser began on-sky engineering testing and commissioning with its successful propagation into the sky over the summit of Cerro Pachón in Chile (see Figures 1&2).

The laser, an integral part of the Gemini Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics System (GeMS), is designed to produce five individual laser guide stars (LGS) that will help provide extremely high angular resolution over a relative wide area of the sky. Adaptive optics systems work by sampling the distortion of starlight by our atmosphere with natural and artificial (laser) guide stars and removing much of the blurring caused by our atmosphere with deformable mirrors.

The technical testing and integration of the laser into the GeMS system will continue through this year as the Canopus adaptive optics system and the Gemini South Adaptive Optics Imager are also commissioned and integrated (see Figure 3). When complete, this will be the most advanced adaptive optics system in astronomy, opening new possibilities for scientists to make progress in studies of fundamental topics, including the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies.

For more information on these instruments and systems see:

A media advisory on this milestone can be found in Spanish and English.

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