PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary Beth Murrill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMay 7, 1996
NASA TO JOIN IN USE OF KECK TELESCOPES
NASA researchers are preparing to use the giant twin
telescopes of the W.M. Keck Observatory together as a single,
high-powered instrument in coming years to search for planets and
planetary systems around nearby stars.
The recently completed Keck II Telescope, the second of the
10-meter (33-foot) diameter telescopes atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea,
is to be formally dedicated in ceremonies at the observatory on
Wednesday, May 8.
Using the Keck telescopes in interferometric studies,
wherein the two telescopes will make concurrent observations of
the same object in space, will provide a dramatic increase in
light-gathering and resolution over a single telescope. These
studies will lay much of the groundwork for NASA's Origins
Program, one goal of which is to seek planets around nearby
"We're excited about the capability to combine the world's
two largest telescopes into one very large 'light bucket,"' said
Dr. Wesley Huntress, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space
Science. "It will enable us to test this technique on the ground
and learn how to operate such systems before we build a large
interferometer in space to search for Earth-like planets."
The W.M. Keck Foundation has provided more than $150 million
toward funding the telescopes. The observatory was constructed
and is managed by the California Association for Research in
Astronomy (CARA), a partnership of the California Institute of
Technology and the University of California.
"We now know that there are Jupiter-like planets around some
other stars," said Dr. Edward C. Stone, chairman of the board of
CARA, vice president of Caltech and director of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. "One of the objectives of
the Keck telescopes is to detect even more planets around nearby
stars. We'll be looking primarily for Jupiters because Jupiters
are so much easier to detect than much smaller Earth-like
planets. But if there's a Jupiter-like planet around a given
star, that would be a prime place to look with more sensitive
space-based instruments for Earth-like planets."
"NASA's involvement in the telescopes will broaden the
science base by bringing in the national community of
astronomers," said Keck Project Manager Gerald M. Smith. With
the research and development investment in the Keck facility, "we
should be able to accomplish some science that would not have
otherwise been done," Smith added.
The Keck II Telescope, like its sibling Keck I, uses a
mirror composed of 36 hexagonal pieces of glass, individually
polished and assembled, to form a huge, perfectly parabolic
reflecting surface. This segmented mirror is much thinner, and
therefore lighter in weight, than a solid mirror could be, which
is the key to building such a large instrument.
In addition to doubling the amount of observing time
available at the Keck Observatory, Keck II will allow a wider
array of observing instruments to be used. Scientists have
designed and built three specialized spectrographs -- instruments
for recording an object's spectrum -- for use on Keck II that
will make possible an observational program with great
flexibility and range.
Keck II will also have an adaptive optics facility, a method
of compensating for the slight distortions caused by atmospheric
turbulence. People see distorted starlight as twinkling, but for
a telescope making a long exposure, the star looks slightly
blurry. The adaptive optics system will be able to detect these
tiny distortions and make one hundred tiny adjustments per second
to the mirror to compensate for them and maintain the sharpest
NASA has committed to provide $7 million a year for a total
of $44 million for construction and $2 million a year for
operating costs as part of a cooperative effort to develop and
use infrared and optical interferometry wherein the two
telescopes will make concurrent observations of the same object.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, manages the
agency's participation in the W.M. Keck Observatory is provided
through the agency's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.