Don Savage Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1727) Mary Beth Murrill Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena

, CA (Phone: 818/354-5011) RELEASE: 96-86

May 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 ten-meter (33-foot) diameter telescopes atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea, will 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 stars. "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." "We now know that there are Jupiter-like planets around some other stars," said Dr. Edward C. Stone, Vice President of the California Institute of Technology, Director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, and Chairman of the Board of the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA). CARA, a partnership of the Caltech and the University of California, constructed and manages the

observatory. - more -

-2"One of the objectives of the Keck telescopes is to detect even more planets around nearby stars. We'll be looking primarily for Jupiter-like planets 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." The Keck II Telescope, like its twin 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. Keck II also will 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 possible image. 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. The W. M. Keck Foundation provided more than $150 million toward funding the telescopes. 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. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, manages the agency's participation in the W.M. Keck Observatory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. - end NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to domo@hq.nasa.gov. In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe pressrelease" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. NASA releases also are available via CompuServe using the command GO NASA.