The observing time of the original six partners - the US, the UK, Canada, Chile, Argentina and Brazil - will be slightly reduced, but this loss will be offset by "enhanced scientific productivity" made possible by Australia's contribution, according to Gemini director, Matt Mountain. Australia will give A$13.5 m (about $9.2 m) to the project over the next five years, boosting Gemini's total funds to $193.2 million.

The Gemini telescopes will give high-quality simultaneous coverage of the northern and southern skies at infrared and optical wavelengths. The extra finance from Australia will be used for technical enhancements, including new infrared sensors that will increase the available observing time. The telescopes are due to begin operation by August 2001.

Australia had hoped to take over a 5% share in the Gemini partnership when Chile was threatened with expulsion after failing to pay its subscription. When Chile found the funds, the Australian Research Council launched a campaign to expand the Gemini membership. The campaign was backed by the UK.

Participation in Gemini will compensate Australia's large astronomy community for the disappointment it suffered when plans to join the European Southern Observatory were scuppered in March 1996. Access will allow Australian astronomers to "greatly extend our current measurements of how much matter there is in the universe and to study very young galaxies, " says Jeremy Mould, director of the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories of the Australian National University.

Following the deal, the US now has a 47.6% share in Gemini, the UK 23.8%, Canada 14.3%, Australia and Chile 4.8% each, and Argentina and Brazil 2.4% each.