Keck Interferometer
March 12, 2001

 

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Proving that two telescopes are better than one, NASA astronomers gather the first starlight using a new system linking two Hawaiian 10-meter (33-foot) telescopes. This new Keck Interferometer is the world's most powerful optical telescope system. The project will eventually search for planets around nearby stars and help NASA design future space-based missions that can search for habitable, Earth-like planets.

An interferometer uses multiple telescopes to gather light waves, then combines the waves in such a way that they interact with each other. A similar phenomenon can be observed by throwing a rock into a lake and watching the resulting ripples, or waves. If a second rock is thrown into the water, the new set of waves either bumps up against the first set and changes its pattern, or it joins together with the first set, making larger, more powerful waves. In astronomy, the idea is to combine the light waves from the multiple telescopes to simulate a much larger telescope. This enables scientists to capture images of much smaller objects or to determine their size or position with much greater accuracy.

See also: Keck Interferometer website

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