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: (more…)
No one is ever excited when the topic of “dust” is brought up. Usually dust is a hindrance – something you sweep away during spring-cleaning, or an annoyance because your allergies can’t handle it. But for astronomers, finding dust around another star – i.e., circumstellar dust – is like finding the next piece of an interstellar puzzle. That’s because circumstellar dust holds clues to understanding not only the origins of planets outside of our solar system, but also gives us a leg up in figuring out our place in the Universe. (more…)
Happy new year, Internet! I’m starting off the year at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It’s an annual conference where all the professional astronomers in the United States get together and talk about space! There’s been some really cool presentations, including the discovery of Earth-sized planets in possibly habitable orbits around other stars by Kepler. Sounds pretty cool right?
A subset of the GPI team was here for the AAS. We gave an update on the GPI Exoplanet Survey, presented posters on debris disks and exoplanets imaged by GPI, and even had a press conference on recent GPI results!
In addition to all the GPI results, the GPI team also had a team lunch to talk about starlight subtraction. Even with the star masked out, starlight still diffracts around the coronagraph and hides the faint exoplanets and debris disks that we are trying to see. As you might guess, starlight subtraction is a really important for GPI, especially with the kickoff of the GPI Exoplanet Survey just a couple of months ago. The content of meeting was a bit technical so I’ll spare you the summary here. It was a productive lunch though, and overall it’s been a great conference!
For release at the American Astronomical Society meeting press confer-ence January 6, 2015, 10:15am (PST)
Publication-quality images available at:
THE GEMINI PLANET IMAGER PRODUCES STUNNING OBSERVATIONS IN ITS FIRST YEAR
Stunning exoplanet images and spectra from the first year of science operations with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) were featured today in a press conference at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington. The Gemini Planet Imager GPI is an advanced instrument designed to observe the environments close to bright stars to detect and study Jupiter-like exoplanets (planets around other stars) and see proto-stellar material (disk, rings) that might be lurking next to the star.
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!
This week was the fourth commissioning run for GPI and I was happy to be back at Gemini to help. When we arrived it was a little cloudy, but just as beautiful as I remembered.
This week predicted an unfavorable forecast; the first several nights battled cloud cover and high winds, which meant a lot of engineering tests and fewer opportunities to actually look at the sky. Clouds make for some really fantastic sunsets, though.
With a the storm rolling in last night with high winds we were unable to open the dome. We stayed over night with the hope of bright eyed astronomers that it would not snow and we would have clear skies for Saturday. In the morning we woke up to a winter wonderland.
Every so often our own planet reminds us to take a break from work and build a snow..thing.