I recently returned from the third commissioning run for the Gemini Planet Imager. Up until now, I had never been observing. I had never even seen the Milky Way. And as far as firsts go, I hit the jackpot — my first observing run at Gemini South, commissioning GPI.
Up on the mountain for 6 days, sunset to sunrise we busily work to gather light from the sky into GPI. But everyone takes a few moments during the night to step outside and look at the sky with their own eyes — no one misses the opportunity.
I’ve always lived in a city where only a handful of stars are visible at best. While I was always fascinated with the universe (especially thanks to fantastic Hubble press releases) I guess astronomy never felt that accessible to an urbanite like me, for whatever reason. By some stroke of luck, this May I found myself surrounded by mountains and stars, sitting in the control room of a massive telescope filled with technologically impressive instruments and equally impressive brains grasping for answers from the sky. I am definitely fulfilling a childhood dream.
While taking data in the control room, the tone is mostly quiet concentration and focus. But when we get to see the 8-meter move, everyone watches in excitement and awe. Luckily, I hit record.
This has been one of the most interesting and exciting trips I’ve taken. I have an added appreciation for the Gemini Planet Imager and its operation after being on the front line. GPI is not only a platform for great science but an amazing resource and opportunity for the students that are part the commissioning workforce.