NASA astronomers have proved that 2 telescopes are better than one, by linking two Hawaiian 10-meter telescopes together to form the world?s most powerful optical system. The linked telescopes, which are called the Keck Interferometer, will eventually search for planets around nearby stars and help NASA develop missions to search for habitable, Earthlike planet outside of our solar system.

?Successfully combining the light from the two largest telescopes on Earth is a fabulous technical achievement for science,? said Dr. Anne Kinney, Director of NASA?s Astronomical Search for Origins program. ?This will open the possibility of obtaining images with much greater clarity than ever before possible.?

?This is a major step in the creation of a whole new class of astronomical telescopes that will have an enormous impact on future knowledge,? said Dr. Paul Swanson of NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. ?Historically, breakthrough technologies like the Hale 200-inch and the Hubble Space telescopes have made discoveries way beyond the purpose for which they were originally built.?

On March 12, starlight from HD61294, a faint star in the constellation of Lynx, was captured by both Keck telescopes and transported across a sophisticated optical system that connects the 275 feet of underground tunnel that physically separates the telescopes. The collected light waves were combined and processed with a beam combiner and camera.

Since 1995, astronomers have discovered almost 50 planets orbiting other stars. With current technology, they can find very large, Jupiter-like planets, 3 times as massive as the Earth, that are located close to their parent stars, but these are not likely to harbor life. The Keck Interferometer will be able to detect planets farther from their parent stars, meaning that their reflected light is dimmer and harder to detect.

?This first light from the Keck Interferometer marks a dramatic step forward and will help us to accomplish the ultimate goal of the Origins Program?to search for signs of life beyond by examining the light from ?earths? orbiting nearby stars,? said Dr. Charles Beichman, the Origins chief scientist at JPL.

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