Understanding how planets form in the Universe is one of the main motivations for GPI. Thanks to its advanced design, GPI specializes in finding and studying giant planets that are similar to Jupiter in our solar system. These are the kind of planets whose origin we hope to understand much better after our survey is complete.
The planets that we are familiar with in our own solar system have evolved, aged, and cooled, for over 4.5 billion years since the Sun and planets formed. What do planets look like at younger ages? Can we use the light that a planet emits to understand its past history?
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.