Mauna Kea scope
honors pioneer

The Gemini telescope is renamed in honor
of Fred Gillett, the late infrared astronomer

Star-Bulletin staff

The Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea has been named for Fred Gillett, a pioneer in infrared astronomy who died in April 2001.

Gillett's widow, Marian, said, "The naming of the telescope, which always looks up at the stars, just as Fred did all his life, is a very appropriate way to remember him."

He was a leading force in the development of infrared astronomy and design of Gemini's twin 8-meter telescopes, one on Mauna Kea and one in Chile in the Southern Hemisphere.

They explore the infrared region of the spectrum and, together, cover the entire celestial sphere.

"Naming the Gemini telescope in honor of Fred is the most fitting tribute we can pay to him," said Wayne van Citters, director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Astronomical Sciences.

Matt Mountain, the Gemini director who worked with Gillett for many years, said, "If there is one phrase that describes Fred, it would be integrity of purpose, both in his life and in his science."

He added: "(Gillett) approached the problem of producing the world's most powerful infrared telescope with a single purpose. This is a key reason why Gemini performs so well today and why the telescope will now be called the Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope."

Gillett was involved in nearly all major infrared astronomy developments for more than 40 years, from early infrared detectors to the design and construction of the Gemini twins.

He had a major role in the 1983 discovery of the Vega Phenomenon, the dusty disk around the bright star Vega. This was the first observation confirming that planets could exist around stars other than the sun.

Gillett was long associated with the National Optical Astronomical Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., his main residence.

He was involved in the successful Infrared Astronomy Satellite, a milestone in the history of infrared astronomy, and helped make infrared part of NASA in the 1980s.

About 60 friends, associates, family members and others attended the dedication ceremony two weeks ago at the Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea. About 100 others participated via a live videoconference between Hilo, Tucson and Chile.

An international collaboration built the two Gemini telescopes with new technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors to study both optical and infrared radiation from space.

Gemini Observatory

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