Modern telescopes are huge and complex installations. They may be a series of many smaller dishes or a single giant dish, but in either case they are equipped with delicate mirrors, as well as observation instruments, controls for pointing the telescope in the required direction, and electronic systems for recording data. That means these large facilities are vulnerable to hardware failure, such as the collapse of the famous Arecibo Observatory, which was catastrophically damaged due to a broken cable in 2020.
The great Gemini North telescope, run by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NOIRLab and located on the Maunakea volcano on the island of Hawaii, suffered damage last year when the telescope’s primary mirror splintered. According to NSF, “in moving the primary mirror in preparation for removing its reflective shielded silver coating, it contacted an earthquake restraint in the facility’s car wash, chipping the edge.”
The good news was that the damage was contained within a part of the mirror, but the bad news was that repairing an 8.1 meter mirror that needs to have a flawless surface finish is not an easy task. Repair work on the mirror began in February of this year and was completed in March, at which time the telescope had to be reassembled.
The telescope was fully tested at the end of May, and now the observatory has produced its first science observations after repairs. The image above shows the famous Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101, which is a spectacular frontal galaxy. The galaxy was also host to a supernova first seen in May 2023, which was the closest supernova seen in recent years at 21 million light-years away. The supernova was captured in this image, and is the bright point of white light in the lower left half of the image.
The telescope is now able to make observations again, with the team planning to perform a mix of science observations and engineering adjustments as the observatory completes its checks.
“The successful repair of the Gemini North mirror was a great team effort for NOIRLab and our contractors at Safran-Reosc. Many different groups at NOIRLab worked together to resolve this difficult situation,” International Gemini Observatory Director Jennifer Lotz said in a statement. release.