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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.

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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)

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Meeting the Team: GPI Science Meeting November 2013

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) team held our latest science meeting November 1-2, 2013, right before GPI saw first starlight. The meeting was hosted by the SETI Institute at their office in Mountain View, CA (for those curious, I did not find any signs of aliens there). Continuing with tradition, we took a group picture of the GPI team. You can tell it has grown significantly from the past.

Group picture taken at the GPI Science Meeting in November 2013.

Group picture taken at the GPI Science Meeting in November 2013.

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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).

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Gemini Planet Imager Begins On-sky Integration at Gemini South

Adapted from Gemini Observatory e-Newscast #53

Gemini’s powerful new instrument for studying planets beyond the Solar System, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), has successfully received its first starlight for engineering and testing on the night of November 11-12. On-sky observations are currently ongoing for technical integration with the Gemini South telescope. The GPI team (Figure 1) began the 7-night observing run began with a head start, since preliminary pupil and pointing alignments were completed early, due to extensive preparatory work and smooth integration since the instrument arrived at Gemini South in August.

Figure 1. The GPI commissioning team at the Gemini South control room assembles for the first night of commissioning on November 11, 2013. From left to right: Naru Sadakuni, Andrew Cardwell, Marshall Perrin, Stephen Goodsell, Fredrik Rantakyro, Bruce Macintosh, Jeff Chilcote, Dave Palmer, Dmitry Savransky, Sandrine Thomas, Les Saddlemyer, Jennifer Dunn, Ramon Galvez, Carlos Quiroz, Markus Hartung. Not shown, working from the La Serena Base Facility: Kayla Hardie, Pascale Hibon, Andrew Serio, and Cristian Urrutia.

Figure 1. The GPI commissioning team at the Gemini South control room assembles for the first night of commissioning on November 11, 2013. From left to right: Naru Sadakuni, Andrew Cardwell, Marshall Perrin, Stephen Goodsell, Fredrik Rantakyro, Bruce Macintosh, Jeff Chilcote, Dave Palmer, Dmitry Savransky, Sandrine Thomas, Les Saddlemyer, Jennifer Dunn, Ramon Galvez, Carlos Quiroz, Markus Hartung. Not shown, working from the La Serena Base Facility: Kayla Hardie, Pascale Hibon, Andrew Serio, and Cristian Urrutia.

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GPI First light: That someday… is Monday night.

For the last, oh, ten years or so I’ve been working on building a camera to take pictures of planets around distant stars, been lucky enough to be part of a team of the best damn astronomers I’m privileged to know and call my colleagues and my friends. It doesn’t overstate the matter to say this one project has probably been the single largest element of my entire career as a scientist.  As we prepare to point that instrument to the sky for the first time this coming week, it’s kind of mind blowing to look back on that past decade of efforts, hopes, and dreams. How on earth did I get here?

Jamie Lloyd (left) and Marshall Perrin (right) working on NIRCAL camera, an instrument for the Lick AO system.

Jamie Lloyd (left) and Marshall Perrin (right) working on NIRCAL camera, an instrument for the Lick AO system (year 2003).

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Major milestone for GPI. The exoplanet camera hunter is mounted on the Gemini South Telescope

Yesterday was a major milestone for the Gemini Planet Imager Project!

Gaston Gausachs, mechanical engineer at Gemini Observatory, sent us this great picture ofGPI, our exoplanet camera hunter, mounted on the Gemini South Telescope. The team reported that it was a flawless and smooth operation.

First picture of GPI mounted on the Gemini South Telescope. (c) Manuel Paredes

First picture of GPI mounted on the Gemini South Telescope. (c) Manuel Paredes

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GPI Prepping First Light at Cerro Pachon

Since the arrival of the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at Cerro Pachón, the GPI team had busy September and October months.  The instrument was reassembled, aligned, and cooled on September 6. The first “Chilean” image was collected on September 11 and on September 25 the system was bolted on the flexure rig. This is a useful configuration to test the flexure of the instrument and properly correct them before mounting it on the Cassegrain focus of the Gemini South Telescope.

GPI set up on the flexure rig on September 25. (credits: Gaston Gausachs)

GPI set up on the flexure rig on September 25. (credits: Gaston Gausachs)

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Special delivery for the Gemini South telescope. GPI has arrived!

Special delivery for the Gemini South Telescope: a 2-ton planet imager called GPI (credit: Stephen Goodsell and Gaston Gausachs)

Special delivery for the Gemini South Telescope: a 2-ton planet imager called GPI (credit: Stephen Goodsell and Gaston Gausachs)

Stephen Goodsell, Gemini Instrumentation Manager, surprised most of the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) team on August 16 at 3am when we received in our mailbox his email announcing that GPI  landed to Chile. The crates containing the dismounted instrument (see our previous post) had been loaded in a Boeing 747 from Lan Chile and flew to Lima then Santiago (LA601). After quickly clearing customs, the local GPI team could inspect the crates and determined that they arrived in excellent shape and condition. (more…)