How GPI Works to See Planets

I sometimes compare the challenge of directly detecting a Jupiter orbiting a nearby star to finding a glowing needle in a haystack.  Oh, and by the way, the haystack is on fire.

It’s about as hard as seeing a candle a foot away from a spotlight (1 million candlepower) at a distance of 100 miles.

Why is doing this so difficult?  There are three primary reasons:

GPI Technology: Gemini Planet Imager Adaptive Optics uses Boston Micromachines MEMS deformable mirror

Adapted from Boston Micromachines Corporation press release CAMBRIDGE, MA–(Marketwired – Feb 3, 2014) –

Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC), a leading provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror (DM) products, adaptive optics (AO) systems and scientific instruments, announced on Feb. 3 2014 that its 4K-DM is currently installed and is being used in the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). Deployed on one of the world’s largest telescopes, the 8-meter Gemini South telescope located in the Chilean Andes, GPI is a scientific instrument which detects light from extrasolar planets.

4k-dm (1)
The Boston 4K-DM made of a continuous surface, with 4092 actuators and a stroke of 3.5 μm. (Boston Micromachine)