GPIES May 2016 Observing Run: Women in Astronomy

Hello GPI fans! We are just wrapping up our cloudy, snowy May 2016 GPIES observing run. While the weather wasn’t the best, we accomplished what we could in between the clouds. We also enjoyed the fact that this was the first all-woman run that any of the 5 of us had ever been on. It was a celebration of women in astronomy! EDIT: To clarify, for myself, I often spend 4-6 weeks at a time at the telescope, and I am often the ONLY woman there. So it was quite a novel experience for me!

Winter in Chile means snow in the high mountains to the East, as well as a chance of snow at the slightly lower telescope mountains. Here is a wintery view out my window on the plane ride in:

View out the airplane window from Santiago to La Serena

Observing planet formation at close range: Gemini Planet Imager’s view of the TW Hya disk

Observing planet formation at close range: Gemini Planet Imager’s view of the TW Hya disk
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Investigations of star and planet formation have long focused on the rich stellar nurseries of Taurus, Ophiuchus, Chamaeleon, and a handful of similarly nearby (but lower mass) molecular clouds. These regions, which lie just beyond 100 pc, are collectively host to hundreds of low-mass, pre-main sequence (T Tauri) stars with ages of a few million years and less. They hence provide large samples of stars with orbiting circumstellar disks that span a wide range of evolutionary stages.

Extreme Solar Systems Featured in Online Press Conference

Extreme Solar Systems Featured in Online Press Conference
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Announcement from the AAS

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) will convene an online press conference on Tuesday, 1 December, featuring exciting new results on exoplanets from Extreme Solar Systems III, a conference taking place from 29 November through 4 December 2015 at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Hawaii Island.

ExSS III is the third in a series of conferences that began with Extreme Solar Systems in 2007 in Santorini, Greece, and was followed by Extreme Solar Systems II in 2011 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Next week’s conference, like the previous two, will cover all aspects of research on exoplanets. Some 350 researchers from all over the world are registered for the meeting.

Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey — One Year Into The Survey

Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey — One Year Into The Survey
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Orbital motion of 51 Eri b detected between two H-band observations taken with the Gemini Planet Imager in December 2014 and September 2015. From this motion, and additional observations of the system, the team of astronomers confirmed that this point of light below the star is indeed a planet orbiting 51 Eri and not a brown dwarf passing along our line of sight. (credit: Christian Marois & the GPIES team)
Orbital motion of 51 Eri b detected between two H-band observations taken with the Gemini Planet Imager in December 2014 and September 2015. From this motion, and additional observations of the system, the team of astronomers confirmed that this point of light below the star is indeed a planet orbiting 51 Eri and not a brown dwarf passing along our line of sight. (credit: Christian Marois & the GPIES team)

Thursday, November 12 2015 – 9:00 am, PST

AAS/SETI Institute press release presented at the DPS 2015 at National Harbor, MD, USA

The Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) is an ambitious three-year study dedicated to imaging young Jupiters and debris disks around nearby stars using the GPI instrument installed on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. On November 12, at the 47th annual meeting of the AAS’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Washington DC, Franck Marchis, Chair of the Exoplanet Research Thrust of the SETI Institute and a scientist involved in the project since 2004, will report on the status of the survey, emphasizing some discoveries made in its first year.

What do we know about planet formation?

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.

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This artist’s impression shows the formation of a gas giant planet around a young star. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

How GPI Works to See Planets

How GPI Works to See Planets
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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:

Debris Disks: Searching for Dust to Find Planets

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A star system where gas and dust have formed into a disk around a newly formed star. The leftover disk will most likely form planets, comets and asteroids. Credit: NASA

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.