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.

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.

Fig1
This artist’s impression shows the formation of a gas giant planet around a young star. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

GPI Technology: Gemini Planet Imager Adaptive Optics uses Boston Micromachines MEMS deformable mirror

Adapted from Boston Micromachines Corporation press release CAMBRIDGE, MA–(Marketwired – Feb 3, 2014) –

Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC), a leading provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror (DM) products, adaptive optics (AO) systems and scientific instruments, announced on Feb. 3 2014 that its 4K-DM is currently installed and is being used in the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). Deployed on one of the world’s largest telescopes, the 8-meter Gemini South telescope located in the Chilean Andes, GPI is a scientific instrument which detects light from extrasolar planets.

4k-dm (1)
The Boston 4K-DM made of a continuous surface, with 4092 actuators and a stroke of 3.5 μm. (Boston Micromachine)

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.

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.

Progress on the GPI exoplanet imager integration

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a next generation adaptive optics instrument being built for the Gemini Observatory. This is an ambitious project with the goal of directly imaging extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The instrument is currently being integrated at the University of California at Santa Cruz. After more than a year of testing in a fixed orientation in a clean room, on March 7, 2013, the 2,030 kg instrument was set up on a crane and flexure rig. In collaboration with the UCSC team, we prepared this time lapse video showing GPI being set up in its new position.

GPI instrument being set up on its flexure jig mounting (Credit: GPI consortium)