Latest Posts

Lines, lines

ESP_021838_1300_0.363xA piece of Mars: On martian dunes it’s all about lines, lines, lines. The prominent wavy ones on the left are thought to be erosional scars left by sliding blocks of dry ice. The little fingerprint-like lines are ripples, like those found on any Earth dune. All those lines tell us that the dunes are formed as the wind, ice, and sand interact over time. (826×620 m, ESP_021838_1300, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Mars’ fleets of rock “boats”

ESP_034129_1820_0.302xA piece of Mars: Where the wind blows strong and there’s a lot of sand, the surface gets scoured. Some bits of the ground, called yardangs, are more resistant and stick around: they take on shapes elongated in the direction of the wind (in this case, a wind from the lower right). Groups of them are often called “fleets”, as they sometimes look like inverted boat hulls. (993×745 m, ESP_034129_1820, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Bearded hills

ESP_034084_1655_0.776xA Piece of Mars: Bright hills appear to be bearded (or perhaps mustached?). What’s going on? Dark sand has blown over some yellow-crested hills and settled on the downwind side, where the hill blocks enough wind that it can no longer move sand, and it all collects there in rippled drifts. (scene is 386×290 m, ESP_034084_1655, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Meeting the Team: GPI Science Meeting November 2013

The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) team held our latest science meeting November 1-2, 2013, right before GPI saw first starlight. The meeting was hosted by the SETI Institute at their office in Mountain View, CA (for those curious, I did not find any signs of aliens there). Continuing with tradition, we took a group picture of the GPI team. You can tell it has grown significantly from the past.

Group picture taken at the GPI Science Meeting in November 2013.

Group picture taken at the GPI Science Meeting in November 2013.

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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).

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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).

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Wintery dune

ESP_033729_2565_0.76xA piece of Mars: A single dune sits on the surface of Mars, not too far from the north pole. It’s early spring, but this far north the dune is still covered in white CO2 frost (as well as a thin yellow layer of airfall dust). But the sun has done some work already: the dark spots are areas where enough frost is gone from the warm sun’s rays, revealing the lovely black sand beneath. Before long the frost will be gone and the dark dune will be fully released from its wintery blanket. (ESP_033729_2565, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Growth of ripples over time… a long time.

ESP_033717_1990_1.0xA piece of Mars: Normally I post color images, but this one is just too cool to skip. These ripples formed ages ago: long enough ago that the impact of several small bolides formed craters (seen on the left), disrupting this ripple field (the largest crater is ~85 m across). After the impact, small ripples formed inside the craters, but they never grew to the same size as the original ripples. (HiRISE ESP_033717_1990, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Asteroid Minerva finds its magical weapons in the sky

The International Astronomical Union has chosen the names Aegis and Gorgoneion for the two moons of the asteroid (93) Minerva.  My team discovered the small moons in 2009 using the W. M. Keck Telescope and its adaptive optics system. We proposed the names after receiving input from the public.

Artist-Impr-Minerva-lowres-rgb72dpi

Artistic view of the Triple Asteroid System (93) Minerva. The 150km primary at the center is surrounded by its two moons S/(93) 1 Aegis and S/(93) 2 Gorgoneion.

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The French Pyrénées becomes the second-largest international dark sky reserve in the world

Pic du Midi RICE Logo

Pic du Midi RICE Logo

Adapted from  IDA press release http://www.darksky.org TUCSON, AZ, AND TOULOUSE, FRANCE, 19 December 2013 –

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announced today the designation of the first International Dark Sky Place in France. In naming the Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR), IDA is pleased to recognize the immense local efforts to preserve and protect the exceptionally dark night skies over the Pyrénées Mountains

“In creating the Reserve, the Pic du Midi team has not only protected a vanishing resource, they have made it better than it was,” said IDA Executive Director Bob Parks. “We commend and celebrate their exceptional efforts.” 

ciel étoilé mesuré au dessus d'Aulon

Photographing the Milky Way near the village of Aulon, France (Credit: Nicolas Bourgeois / Pic du Midi)