Telescope’s link to Chile
3 months away

More work is needed before
interstellar data can be exchanged

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> A new Internet link between the huge Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile may be fully functional by November, Gemini director Matt Mountain says.

Inauguration of the new link took place yesterday with officials in Hilo, Miami, Washington, D.C., and La Serena, Chile, making speeches simultaneously "Webcast" to the four locations. All of the officials were able to watch each other as the Internet link also carried live pictures to and from four locations.

Instead of the commercial Internet available to home computer users, the new link uses Internet2, a new branch of the Internet established by 200 universities and research institutions, plus AMPATH, an Internet "gateway" between North and South America.

More work must be done before the twin Gemini facilities are able to exchange expected massive amounts of data between the northern and southern hemispheres, Mountain said.

Illustrating the potential and problems, Mountain referred to work done by astronomer Isobel Hook during daytime the past three days in Oxford, England, while the Gemini North telescope gathered data for her 11 times zones away at night in Hawaii.

Jean-Rene Roy, associate director of the Gemini North Telescope, said Hook's nearly simultaneous access to Hawaii data isn't fast enough. Each star image from Hawaii, with about 200 times the file size of a typical homeowner's digital snapshot, takes about seven minutes to reach England, Roy said.

The existing Internet should have been able to transmit the images in just one or two minutes.

"We don't know what the bottleneck is," he said.

In the same way, technicians need to tweak the optimum performance out of the new Internet route between Hawaii and Chile.

When it all works well, the system will allow astronomers on opposite sides of the world to "eavesdrop" on each other, Mountain said.

For example, one wrong key stroke on a control board can tell the huge Gemini scopes to look in the wrong place.

Without eavesdropping, an astronomer might not realize he got the wrong picture for several weeks. With eavesdropping, an astronomer thousands of miles away can quickly tell a telescope operator, "That's not what I wanted," and redirect the telescope, Mountain said.

Gemini Observatory

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