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Powerful Telescope System Created

March 15, 2001

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ The world’s two largest telescopes have been linked to create an optical instrument powerful enough to pinpoint planets orbiting other suns, NASA said Wednesday.

Astronomers first gathered starlight from the linked 33-foot telescopes late Monday at the W.M. Keck Observatory atop the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said.

Using a process called interferometry, the twin telescopes first captured light from HD61294, a faint star in the constellation Lynx. The starlight was then shuttled across a 275-foot gap between the telescopes and combined in a way to mimic the light-gathering action of a single, larger telescope.

Anne Kinney, director of NASA’s astronomical search for origins program, which includes the Keck Interferometer, called it ``a fabulous technical advancement for science.″

``This will open the possibility of obtaining images with much greater clarity than ever before,″ she said, equating the device to a single 85-meter (279-foot) telescope.

The Keck Interferometer will be tested through summer, with limited science operations to begin this fall.


On the Net:

W.M. Keck Observatory: http://www2.keck.hawaii.edu:3636/

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