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).

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.

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).

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

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)

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.

Packing a planet imager instrument for a trip to Chile

Packing a planet imager instrument for a trip to Chile
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It is happening! The Gemini Planet Imager has been being dismounted, wrapped, and packed for a long trip to Chile. After so many years working on this project, the entire team shared   the anxiety of the principal investigator, Bruce Macintosh: GPI is going away…

Bruce Macintosh, Principal Investigator of the instrument having a little moment of separation anxiety during the packing.
Bruce Macintosh, Principal Investigator of the instrument having a little moment of separation anxiety during the packing.

After a successful pre-shipping review, the instrument has left UCSC, where it was being integrated and tested, for its new home: the Gemini South Telescope on the top of Cerro Pachon in the Chilean Andes.

GPI is ready for its new location in Chile

It is now official, The Gemini Planet Imager (“Gee-pi”) is ready for shipping to Chile. This decision was taken on July 19 after the positive pre-delivery acceptance review. From its current home at the University of California Santa Cruz, the instrument’s Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS) began its warm-up a week later (July 25th), and the computers were shut-down two days ago (July 31st).

Ifs_install
The Integral Field Spectrograph (the “eye” of GPI) being installed in the GPI instrument (archive picture from 2012)

GPI is going to be carefully packed for a long trip to Chile. The instrument will be shipped to the southern hemisphere by plane and should arrive by the end of August.

A blast from the past – GPI kick-off science meeting March 2 2007

Astronomy is not only about the study of stars, the search for exoplanets, the characteristics of detectors, and the size of telescopes, it is also about human interactions. While digging through my old email for a document, I found this group picture that was taken during our first GPI Science meeting at University of California at Berkeley in 2007.

Group picture from the GPI Kick-off meeting (March 2 2007). From left to right, back: M. Perrin, XXXXX, C. Marois, R. Doyon, X. Song, J. Graham, G. Marcy, G. Serabyn, L. Palmer, R. Makidon, XXXX, F. Marchis, P. Kalas, B. Macintosh
Group picture from the GPI Kick-off meeting (March 2 2007). back row, from left to right: M. Perrin, XXXXX, C. Marois, R. Doyon, M. Shao, J. Graham, G. Marcy, G. Serabyn, L. Palmer, J. Wright, J. Jensen. On the front row, from left to right: F. Marchis, P. Kalas, B. Macintosh