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From a remote outpost on the summit of Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea
volcano, astronomers at the W. M. Keck Observatory probe the deepest
regions of the Universe with unprecedented power and precision.
Their instruments are the twin Keck Telescopes, the world's largest
optical and infrared telescopes. Each stands eight stories tall and
weighs 300 tons, yet operates with nanometer precision. At the heart
of each Keck Telescope is a revolutionary primary mirror. Ten meters
in diameter, the mirror is composed of 36 hexagonal segments that
work in concert as a single piece of reflective glass.
Made possible through grants totaling more than $140 million from
the W. M. Keck Foundation, the Observatory is operated by the California
Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors
includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology
and the University of California. In 1996, the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) joined as a partner in the Observatory.
The Keck I telescope began science observations in May 1993; Keck
II began in October 1996.
Keck's capabilities make full use of Mauna Kea's research potential.
Surrounded by thousands of miles of relatively thermally stable ocean,
the 13,796-foot Mauna Kea summit has no nearby mountain ranges to
roil the upper atmosphere or throw light-reflecting dust into the
air. Few city lights pollute its extremely dark skies. For most of
the year, the atmosphere above Mauna Kea is clear, calm and dry.
For more information visit the W. M. Keck Observatory website.
Image Credit: Keck I and II observatories on Mauna Kea, Hawaii - Simon Fraser (Science Photo Library)