I just… felt like putting up a pretty picture from MAHLI, the microscopic imager on Curiosity. This is image 0817MH0003250050301497E01_DXXX, taken Nov. 23, 2014 (sol 817). The camera mainly takes closeup images of rocks, but it’s also good for a quick landscape shot. You can see where the camera was pointing here.
A piece of Mars: This 600×450 m (1969×1476 ft) scene of a hillside shows new, dark dustslides that slid downhill (to the lower left). Faint stripes of older dustslides are visible, covered by bright dust and small ripples. Thousands of these form every year on Mars, stretching several kilometers downslope – there is nothing quite like this here on Earth! (HiRISE ESP_038387_1855, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A piece of Mars. These are gullies on a martian hillside (upslope is to the upper right). Water may be what forms the channels, carrying soil and rocks downslope. The textured pattern of the lower slope is caused by the wind forming ripples on loose sediment that has been transported partway down the hill. (HiRISE ESP_038389_1105, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
The intensive exploration of Mars is yielding a large amount of data about its properties and its past. However, two great enigmas are yet to be explained: what caused this planet to be different from planet Earth? Is there or has there been any biological activity on the Red Planet? Particularly revealing is the comparative study of both planets.
To follow up to Jason’s post, here’s a photo of our summit team today – much reduced in numbers here in person from a year ago, but this is just the tip of the GPI team iceberg, and we were joined online and via teleconference by at least a dozen other members of the team from California to Canada to Maryland to Australia. Not to mention all the tremendous contributions from so many team members to the hardware, software, target selection, and data analysis needed to bring this complex creature into reality.
And, without further ado, now that GPI is built, delivered, and commissioned… it’s time to let those mirrors dance!
One year ago, GPI saw its first starlight on the night of November 11-12, 2013. In the year since that, the GPI team has been very busy. We’ve detected our first exoplanet, had a series of commissioning runs, took the SPIE conference at Montreal by storm, and found a new friend. Tonight, the night of November 11-12, 2014, we are in the midst of starting what GPI was designed to do: discovering new exoplanets! To celebrate this exciting year for GPI, we tried to recreate this moment from first starlight:
Here’s our attempt:
The party this time around isn’t quite as packed. The observing crew is only half the size of our first light run. I think this shows we’ve made some significant strides in this last year. We’ve fixed a lot of problems and streamlined a lot of tasks so it doesn’t take as many people to observe with such a complicated instrument. However, arguably we have much more to be excited about. With GPI fully operational, we can now start discovering new worlds! Here’s to many more great years of GPI science!
As we came up to the domes after dinner tonight, we had a visitor overhead, circling around and, well, soaring over the SOAR telescope right next door. Our local expert in Andean wildlife, Gemini instrument scientist Pascale Hibon, says this is a juvenile female condor, younger than three years because she’s not yet displaying any white adult feathers. We have decided she is named Henrietta.
The sun has just set, and we’re slewing towards the first target of the night… ¡Adelante!
I don’t normally post about food, but this was too good to pass up.
The food they serve at the cafeteria on the summit can sometimes be very interesting. For my breakfast (dinner for people that are awake during the day) today, I had rice with the little alphabet letters you find in alphabet soup commonly.
Naturally, the thing to do when served this is to spell GPI. The ‘P’ was particularily hard to find in my dinner.
Time for my second GPI observing run! And this one is especially exciting as this run will officially start the GPI Exoplanet Survey. Flying down to observe on GPI can be its own adventure though. The closest city to the Gemini South Telescope is La Serena. Coming from the Bay Area, it takes about a full day to get to La Serena, involving at least two layovers (e.g. Dallas and Santiago), and often it doesn’t go exactly at planned.
This time, our flight from Dallas to Santiago encountered a mechanical error and was delayed. Unfortunately, since this happened around midnight, this meant we would not fly out until the next morning. The airline had to book everyone in hotels for the night, and I’m not sure if it is because they were running low on hotel rooms, but we were booked into an extremely interesting hotel. It was a Andy Warhol themed hotel, filled with Warhol artwork and Warhol-esque furniture. The toiletries even had Warhol inspired designs (I kept one as a souvenir). Here’s a picture of the lobby, although this picture doesn’t quite do it justice.
Here’s another shot of the lobby with some of our fellow stranded passengers waiting to check in.
This certainly was a memorable forced layover in Dallas. But now I’ve made it to the summit, it’s time to focus on finding some exoplanets!
A piece of Mars: This 600×450 m (1969×1476 ft) polar scene shows sinuous channels 2-8 m (7-26 ft) wide carved out of ice-filled and ice-covered terrain. They’re not formed by flowing water, but instead by flowing gas that gets trapped under thick winter ice. The pressure of the underground gas builds until it explodes, forcing its way out, and carrying brown soil with it. Local winds blow the soil downwind (to the upper right), forming distinctive streaks. This happens every year on Mars. Awesome. (HiRISE ESP_038399_0945, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)