Silent Night, Starry Night

The Gemini North telescope, part of the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, is located near the summit of Maunakea in Hawai‘i. This timelapse image captures Gemini North (second from the left) along with five other telescopes located near the summit.

Maunakea is one of the five volcanoes that constitutes the island of Hawai‘i. The summit of Maunakea lies 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) above sea level, placing it above most of the tropical clouds and humidity of Hawai‘i. In contrast to the general climate of the island, the local environment near the summit can become snowy from time to time. Generally, little rain falls in the area and the soil is not suitable for most plant life. Low oxygen levels also make it a somewhat hazardous place to be for long periods of time.

However, the unique conditions at Maunakea’s summit are also precisely what make its environment suitable for an astronomical observatory. Being above the thickest parts of the Earth’s atmosphere gives telescopes sharper views, free of much of the atmospheric turbulence that can blur images of distant stars and galaxies. Its location also reduces light scattering from light pollution and natural atmospheric phenomena.


International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. Chu

About the Image

Release date:Dec. 28, 2022, noon
Size:4928 x 3080 px

About the Object

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