New Internet Link Moves Gemini a Step Closer to Becoming World's First "Cyber Observatory"
13 August 2002
Thanks to a unique combination of international cooperation and the latest Internet technology, Gemini Observatory is now well on its way to becoming the world's first global "cyber observatory".
With funding and support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Gemini has succeeded in blazing a new Internet pathway which will provide its globally separated twin telescopes with a reliable data transfer connection able to handle the enormous amounts of scientific information created by Gemini's sophisticated instrumentation.
This innovative link was further made possible with the support and technical assistance of Internet2, a university led networking research and development consortium; and AMPATH, a high-performance Internet "gateway" to South American research and educational networks led by Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.
"Gemini South is the first U.S. managed research program in South America to access the Internet2 network infrastructure," said Gemini Director of Operations Dr. James Kennedy, who led the Gemini initiative for establishing the new link.
"Now all we are limited by is the speed of light."
Kennedy's comments were made at the August 13, 2002 inauguration of the new link between Gemini's twin, 8-meter telescopes located on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i, and on Cerro Pachón in the Chilean Andes.
Utilizing the latest net-based, audio-visual conferencing technology, the event itself was an apt demonstration of the enormous potential of the new connection - not only for science, but also for cultural and educational opportunities around the world.
Styled as a "virtual inauguration", the event electronically brought together several key individuals located at the Gemini facilities in both Hawai'i and Chile, with the leading NSF participants and representatives of Internet2 in Washington D.C., and Florida International University in Miami.
Exemplifying the new link's potential not only for astronomy, but also for the community at large, Gemini Observatory Director Dr. Matt Mountain announced a new teacher exchange program between Hawai'i and Chile. The program is geared to allow educators from Chile and Hawai'i to share science and their respective cultural heritages using the new Gemini technology in an Internet Classroom that will connect the two communities. (See related press release, "Teacher Exchange", at: http://www.gemini.edu/project/announcements/press/2002-12.html.)
Speaking at the event from his Washington, D.C., office, Dr. Wayne Van Citters, Director of the National Science Foundation's Astronomy Division, said, "Gemini has laid the foundation for a new way of doing astronomy that will allow us to see farther, fainter and sharper than ever before. This exemplifies what can be achieved through international scientific cooperation."
Gemini Observatory is a partnership of seven countries - the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
"With this successfully completed final Internet phase, Gemini Observatory now becomes a valuable global resource for the worldwide scientific community," said Dr. Thomas Greene, Senior Program Director with the Advanced Networking Infrastructure and Research (ANIR) Division of the National Science Foundation. Greene was instrumental in the NSF coordination of the various scientific and governmental agencies.
Thanks to this new link, Gemini is now able to move forward towards its "cyber observatory" goal at a cost of approximately one-tenth the expense of what would have been required to establish a similar high-quality connection through commercial channels.
"It would have been economically impractical to transmit the amount of data required by modern astronomical research on the commodity Internet," Kennedy said.
Under development for almost five years, the creation of this pathway between the two telescopes was not a simple undertaking.
While networks to support such science already existed within the U.S. and several other nations, connecting these networks across international boundaries has taken longer to develop.
"Getting high-performance networking between countries has been a challenge," said Heather Boyles, Director of International Relations for Internet2, a consortium of more than 200 U.S. universities, companies and research organizations. Internet2 supports the U.S. portion of the Gemini Connection via its high-speed, limited access science "backbone" network known as Abilene.
Gemini North in Hawai'i has been linked to Abilene for the past two years. However, finding a suitable high-speed, high-capacity access point to South America and thus, to Gemini South, was a critical goal in completing the link. The innovative solution for Gemini was FIU's AMPATH, a new high-capacity "portal" to South America.
"FIU's role in the Gemini project is a source of great pride," said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. "This is the kind of partnership that the university of the future should be involved in: one that promotes knowledge across boundaries."
Because of its strategic significance in scientific and educational networking, AMPATH has also received extensive support from the NSF.
AMPATH (short for AmericasPATH) was established in 2000 by FIU as an international Internet exchange point for research and education networks in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, the U.S. and the world.
"One of the big problems in scientific research throughout Latin America has always been high-quality access to the big research networks in the United States," said Julio Ibarra, Director of AMPATH and Advanced Research Networking at FIU.
"There was a real need to somehow find a way to link all these scientists in both North and South America together. This was the driving force behind AMPATH. We are happy that Gemini has demonstrated this so successfully, and in a very concrete way."
Kennedy emphasized this international aspect of the completion of the new Internet link by pointing out another very important goal envisioned in the cyber observatory concept.
"This new link is just the first step in providing us with the capability to allow astronomers from around the world to participate in real-time observations without ever leaving their offices."
This is achieved through advanced Internet audio-visual technology which will allow an astronomer in a distant location to be "tele-present" in real time within the observatory control room as his or her observing program is being executed on the telescopes.
As defined by the Gemini architects of the concept, a cyber observatory is the seamless integration of astronomy's latest computer-based imaging technology with the cognitive utilization of high-speed networking infrastructure.
Although the cyber observatory approach is a new concept, astronomy has a long tradition of successful cooperation between international observatories.
"For the past 27 years, the NSF-supported Blanco and Mayall 4-meter telescopes have worked together to provide complete sky coverage for astronomers," said Dr. Malcolm G. Smith, Director of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO).
CTIO is a part of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and has provided U.S. astronomers access to the southern sky for four decades. Gemini and NOAO are both managed for the NSF by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA).
A big plus for CTIO, is that because of this relationship, all telescopes operating under the CTIO umbrella will benefit from the new Gemini Internet link by being able to share this high-information "science-net". Dr. Smith emphasized that this sharing will allow users of the telescopes operated by CTIO to exploit similar Internet potentials such as Gemini's Remote Viewing Project and the observatory's new Teacher Exchange Program (See related press release).
"Now," said Dr. Smith, who also serves as AURA's representative in Chile, "Gemini will take this concept a step further with its twin 8-meter telescopes, fully integrated and connected by the modern technology of the Internet."
As Gemini Observatory Director Dr. Mountain so aptly characterized it, "Welcome to the dawning era of point and click astronomy."