Thoughts on GPI

In a major breakthrough for exoplanet discovery and exploration, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is proving to be one of most powerful and effective instruments ever invented for directly imaging planets in orbit around other stars.

An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eri b, seen in the near-infrared light that shows the hot layers deep in its atmosphere glowing through clouds. Because of its young age, this young cousin of our own Jupiter is still hot and  carries information on the way it was formed 20 million years ago.  credits: Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute
An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eri b, seen in the near-infrared light that shows the hot layers deep in its atmosphere glowing through clouds. Because of its young age, this young cousin of our own Jupiter is still hot and carries information on the way it was formed 20 million years ago.
credits: Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute

The behind-the-scenes story of this project sheds light on the complexities and challenges of designing and building a truly game-changing instrument. We started work more than thirteen years ago under the leadership of Bruce Macintosh and the auspices of the Center for Adaptive Optics. At that time, a number of scientists, most from California and Canada, met to discuss building a groundbreaking adaptive optics (AO) system powerful enough to confront — and overcome — the challenging of directly collecting photons from young Jupiter-like exoplanets. The discovery of 51 Eri b, which was announced last August, is the culmination of that effort. 

Hot Jupiter-esque Discovery Hints at Planet Formation

Keck Observatory press release  published on August 13 2015

MAUNAKEA, Hawaii – A team of astronomers discovered a Jupiter-like planet within a young system that could serve as a decoder ring for understanding how planets formed around our sun. The W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii confirmed the discovery. The findings were headed by Bruce Macintosh, a professor of physics at Stanford University,  and show the new planet, 51 Eridani b, is one million times fainter than its parent star and shows the strongest methane signature ever detected on an alien planet, which should yield additional clues as to how the planet formed. The results are published in the current issue of Science.

CREDIT: W. M. KECK OBSERVATORY, CHRISTIAN MAROIS, NRC CANADA Image of 51 Eri b as seen by the NIRC2 instrument on Keck Observatory's Keck II telescope. The bright central star has been mostly removed by a mask to enable the confirmation of the exoplanet one million times fainter.
CREDIT: W. M. KECK OBSERVATORY, CHRISTIAN MAROIS, NRC CANADA
Image of 51 Eri b as seen by the NIRC2 instrument on Keck Observatory’s Keck II telescope. The bright central star has been mostly removed by a mask to enable the confirmation of the exoplanet one million times fainter.

The orbit of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b – The first peer-reviewed article with GPI

Following our very successful first light observing runs in late 2013, the first publication based on Gemini Planet Imager observations is now complete!  It has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesas part of a special issue on exoplanets, and is now available on Astro-ph. We report in this publication the performance of the Gemini Planet Imager based on the first light tests. The first scientific result demonstrates that right from the start, GPI has been performing well enough to yield new insights into exoplanets: Our astrometric observations from November 2013  gave us important new information on the orbit of the planet Beta Pictoris b.

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Peering at Planets

Astronomers and engineers recently completed building the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) to study distant solar systems. GPI will obtain high-resolution images of extrasolar planets by blocking the light of stars and detecting the faint thermal glow of orbiting planets.

Near-infrared image of Beta Pictoris b, an extrasolar planet approximately 60 light years away. The light of the host star, Beta Pictoris, is blocked in this image to reveal the much fainter light of the planet. Image processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada.

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)

The Next Step in Exoplanetary Science: Imaging New Worlds

In 2003, I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of astronomers that met at the University of California at Berkeley to brainstorm on an innovative idea: the design of an instrument to image and characterize planets around other stars, called exoplanets, using a telescope in the 8 – 10 meter class. A decade later, such an instrument became reality with the arrival of the Gemini Planet Imager (called also GPI, or “Gee-pie”) instrument at the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).
Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).

The Next Step in Exoplanetary Science: Imaging New Worlds

In 2003, I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of astronomers that met at the University of California at Berkeley to brainstorm on an innovative idea: the design of an instrument to image and characterize planets around other stars, called exoplanets, using a telescope in the 8 – 10 meter class. A decade later, such an instrument became reality with the arrival of the Gemini Planet Imager (called also GPI, or “Gee-pie”) instrument at the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).
Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on the top-right is the only system detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. HR8799 discovery was announced in a Science article in 2008 by a team led by C. Marois including members of the GPI team (credit: C. Marois).

A blast from the past – GPI kick-off science meeting March 2 2007

Astronomy is not only about the study of stars, the search for exoplanets, the characteristics of detectors, and the size of telescopes, it is also about human interactions. While digging through my old email for a document, I found this group picture that was taken during our first GPI Science meeting at University of California at Berkeley in 2007.

Group picture from the GPI Kick-off meeting (March 2 2007). From left to right, back: M. Perrin, XXXXX, C. Marois, R. Doyon, X. Song, J. Graham, G. Marcy, G. Serabyn, L. Palmer, R. Makidon, XXXX, F. Marchis, P. Kalas, B. Macintosh
Group picture from the GPI Kick-off meeting (March 2 2007). back row, from left to right: M. Perrin, XXXXX, C. Marois, R. Doyon, M. Shao, J. Graham, G. Marcy, G. Serabyn, L. Palmer, J. Wright, J. Jensen. On the front row, from left to right: F. Marchis, P. Kalas, B. Macintosh