In November 2014 we set out to observe 600 young, nearby stars with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) and the Gemini South telescope. Three years later, the survey has achieved a milestone with more than 400 targets observed.
Each frame in this movie shows an image from GPI. The star itself is partially blocked by a mask known as a coronagraph. Together with adaptive optics correcting for turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere, and advanced image processing, we can see the stellar neighborhood where Jupiter-like exoplanets, brown dwarfs, and circumstellar disks could be present.
No instrument is perfect, so every star is surrounded by a residual halo of speckles and noise. But other frames show real astronomical sources. In some frames, the round image of another star is present – a binary companion star or a chance alignment of a distant background star. In others, the faint companions are brown dwarfs or massive exoplanets, up to a million times fainter than their host star. And around several stars, you can see the lines or arcs of disks of planetesimal material, indicating a planetary system still in formation.
Detailed followup observations are needed to determine the nature of each possible companion. That detective work is ongoing, allowing us to continue to explore newly-formed planetary systems within a few hundred light years of our Sun.
Dr. Franck Marchis is a Senior Scientist and Science Outreach Manager at the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar. Marchis earned his PhD in Astrophysics at the Université Paul Sabatier, France, in 2000. He is a planetary astronomer with 22 years of experience in academic, international and non-profit scientific institutions and has conducted multiple research projects in a wide range of areas. He is best known for his discovery and characterization of multiple asteroids, his study of Io volcanism and imaging of exoplanets, planets around other stars. In April 2007, the asteroid numbered 1989SO8 was named “(6639) Marchis” in honor of his work in the field of multiple asteroids.
More recently, he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological.
His currently involved in the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey, which consists in imaging exoplanets using an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope. This new instrument is capable of imaging and recording spectra of young Jupiter-like exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.