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  • richardmitnick 4:25 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Gemini: “Good data from the last GeMS Run” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    11 Dec 2014
    M Paredes

    f

    An image of the the very young star form region N159W recently obtained with GeMS. Credit: Anais Bernard (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, LAM), Benoit Neichel (LAM).

    Gemini GeMS
    GeMS

    Successful Multi-conjugate Adaptive Optics Run at Gemini South

    The Gemini Multi-conjugate adaptive optics System (GeMS) at Gemini South has completed a successful run of 9 nights, with several programs executed and two completed. According to the AO* science fellow Vincent Garrel the performance of the system was, “among the best performances we’ve ever achieved.”

    Rodrigo Carrasco, associate astronomer at Gemini, reports that “During the nights of my shift, we obtained data with 70-80 milliarcsecond (mas) resolution. This is really good!”

    Classical (visiting) observers, Sarah Sweet (from the Australian National University) and Benoit Neichel also report obtaining a significant amount of data, with resolutions between 70 to 100 mas (see image with this post).

    Next Challenges…

    The GeMS team is now actively preparing for the next big hardware upgrade called the Natural Guide Star New Generation Sensor (NGS2) program, which is been building by the Australian National University. Watch for updates here and on the Gemini website.

    Also, a faulty detector, which is on one of the tip&tilt wavefront sensors, will be replaced – this has produced regular time loss. This repair should be ready for operations by the next GeMS run in January 2015.

    Watch for more details in early 2015 on continued progress with Gemini’s powerful adaptive optics capabilities.

    *Adaptive Optics

    See the full article here.

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    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on August 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gemini Observatory,   

    From Carnegie Institution for Science via Gemini Observatory: “Planet-like Object May Have Spent Its Youth as Hot as a Star” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    August 5, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Astronomers have discovered an extremely cool object that could have a particularly diverse history—although it is now as cool as a planet, it may have spent much of its youth as hot as a star.

    four
    A four-stage sequence (left to right) showing the possible extreme temperature evolution for WISE J0304-2705. For about 20 million years, the object was as hot as a star, shining with a temperature of at least 5,100 degrees Fahrenheit (2800 degrees Celsius). After about 100 million years it had cooled to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1500 degrees Celsius), and by a billion years its temperature was about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius). The final stage is billions of years later, when WISE J0304-2705 has cooled to its current planetary temperature of 100-150 C. Artwork credit: John Pinfield

    The current temperature of the object is 200 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (100 to 150 degrees Celsius), which is intermediate between that of the Earth and of Venus. However, the object shows evidence of a possible ancient origin, implying that a large change in temperature has taken place. In the past this object would have been as hot as a star for many millions of years.

    Called WISE J0304-2705, the object is a member of the recently established “Y dwarf” class—the coolest stellar temperature class yet defined, following the other classes O, B, A, F, G, K, M, L, and T. Although the temperature is similar to that of the planets, the object is dissimilar to the rocky Earth-like planets, and instead is a giant ball of gas like Jupiter.

    The international discovery team, led by David Pinfield from the University of Hertfordshire and including Carnegie’s Yuri Beletsky, identified the Y dwarf using the WISE observatory—a NASA space telescope that has imaged the entire sky in the mid-infrared. The team also measured the spectrum of light emitted by the Y dwarf, which allowed them to determine its current temperature and better understand its history. Their work is published by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/Wise

    Only 20 other Y dwarfs have been discovered to-date, and amongst these WISE J0304-2705 is defined as “peculiar” due to unusual features in its emitted light spectrum.

    “Our measurements suggest that this Y dwarf may have a composition and/or age characteristic of one of the Galaxy’s older members,” Pinfield explained. “This would mean its temperature evolution could have been rather extreme.”

    The reason that WISE J0304-2705 undergoes such extensive evolutionary cooling is because it is “sub-stellar,” meaning its interior never gets hot enough for hydrogen fusion, the process that has kept our Sun hot for billions of years, and without an energy source maintaining a stable temperature, cooling and fading is inevitable.

    If WISE J0304-2705 is an ancient object, then its temperature evolution would have followed through an understood series of stages: During its first approximately 20 million years it would have a temperature of at least 5,100 degrees Fahrenheit (2800 degrees Celsius), the same as red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to the Sun). After 100 million years it would have cooled to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius), with silicate clouds condensing out in its atmosphere. At a billion years of age it would have cooled to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), so cool that methane gas and water vapor would dominate its appearance. And since then it would have continued to cool to its current temperature, barely enough to boil water for a cup of tea.

    WISE J0304-2705 is as massive as 20-30 Jupiters combined, which is intermediate between the more massive stars and typical planets. But in terms of temperature it may have actually “taken the journey” from star-like to planet-like conditions.

    Having identified WISE 0304-2705, Pinfield’s team made crucial ground-based observations with some of the world’s largest telescopes—the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope, the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter New Technology Telescope, all located in the Chilean Andes.

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South

    Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes
    Magellan

    ESO NTT
    ESO/NTT

    Team member Mariusz Gromadzki said: “The ground based measurements were very challenging, even with the largest telescopes. It was exciting when the results showed just how cool this object was, and that it was unusual”.

    “The discovery of WISE J0304-2705, with its peculiar light spectrum, poses ongoing challenges for the most powerful modern telescopes that are being used for its detailed study” remarked Maria Teresa Ruiz, team member from the Universidad de Chile.

    WISE J0304-2705 is located in the Fornax (Furnace) constellation, belying its cool temperature.

    There is currently no lower limit for Y dwarf temperatures, and there could be many even cooler and more diverse objects un-detected in the solar neighborhood. WISE went into hibernation in February 2011 after carrying out its main survey mission. However, by popular demand it was revived in December 2013, and is continuing to observe as part of a three-year mission extension [Neowise].

    “WISE gives us wonderful sensitivity to the coolest objects” said Pinfield, “and with three more years of observations we will be able to search the sky for more Y dwarfs, and more diverse Y dwarfs.”

    The paper, to be published by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is available on astro-ph

    See the full article here.

    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.

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  • richardmitnick 9:23 am on July 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Fermilab- “The sky is not the limit: DES gets time on Gemini telescope” 


    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    Thursday, July 10, 2014
    Hanae Armitage

    In an ambitious five-year mission, the Dark Energy Survey team has devoted itself to mapping the southern sky in unprecedented detail, ultimately hoping to decipher what may stand as the most bewildering phenomenon of our expanding universe.

    In March, DES applied to the Large and Long Program at the Gemini Observatory, a program meant to foster scientific exploration through global collaboration. Although the Gemini Observatory has existed since 2000, the Large and Long Program launched just last year as another means to probe the shrapnel of the big bang. It offers time on two of the world’s finest telescopes, one located atop an 8,900-foot mountain in the Chilean Andes (Gemini South) and the other on Mauna Kea, Hawaii (Gemini North).

    Gemini North telescope
    Gemini North

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South

    Just last month, co-leader of the Strong Lensing Science Working Group at DES, Liz Buckley-Geer, received the email she’d been waiting for: Spread over the next three years, DES had been awarded a lofty total of 276 hours on Gemini South.

    “Because we were asking for such a big block of time I really didn’t think we had much of a chance,” Buckley-Geer said. “I was pretty gobsmacked when I got the email two weeks ago.”

    With a hefty 8.1-meter mirror, the Gemini telescope is twice as large as the telescope on which DECam is currently mounted. But DES scientists don’t plan to take new images with Gemini South. DECam images are plenty clear and show high-quality snapshots of galaxies and galaxy clusters. Instead of imaging, DES scientists will use an instrument called a spectrograph to further inspect the images and, in some cases, confirm a rare phenomenon called strong lensing.

    DECam
    DECam

    One of five methods DES uses to explore dark energy, strong lensing is the bending of light from a distant galaxy, or source, due to the gravitational influence of a massive foreground object, or lens. Lensing changes the observed shape of the distant galaxy and intensifies brightness. To find these strong lensing systems in the DECam images, DES scientists look for objects that look distorted, often appearing as long bright arcs, multiple blue knots or, in the rarest cases, an Einstein ring. DES will focus on certain classes of strong lenses that can be used to study dark energy.

    “The strong lenses provide a kind of peephole to the more distant, fainter universe that wouldn’t be available if the lenses weren’t there,” said DES Operations Scientist Tom Diehl.

    But what appear to be strong lenses are not always so. To separate the lenses from the impostors, scientists measure the redshifts of both the lens and the source. A true strong lens is one in which the source redshift is larger than the lens redshift.

    A redshift occurs when light wavelengths increase, or shift toward the red side of the electromagnetic spectrum. The measured redshift of a galaxy is related to the expansion of the universe as a function of time, and it allows DES scientists to calculate the distance to the object.

    To determine the redshift of a galaxy, the scientists will compare the spectrum of the obtained light with known features in the spectrum of various chemical compounds found on Earth. If the same features are seen in an observed spectrum from a distant source but occur at shifted wavelengths, then the redshift can be calculated.

    “The observations with Gemini will give us the redshifts of all these objects, and armed with that information we can move on to the next step,” Buckley-Geer said. “It’s not all the information we need, but it’s one piece of the jigsaw puzzle closer to understanding these system in relation to dark energy.”

    See the full article here.

    Fermilab Campus

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics.


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  • richardmitnick 4:12 pm on May 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gemini Observatory, Gemini Planet Imager   

    From Gemini Observatory: “Tour of the Telescope” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    gpi

    May 15, 2014
    Jason Wang

    Yesterday, we had a chance to see the telescope in all of its glory. And it is HUGE!

    scope
    The Gemini South Telescope with the dome lights on.

    It really makes you appreciate the amount of equipment you need to directly image these faint extrasolar planets that are orbiting other stars. Andrew, the telescope operator, then pointed the telescope down so that we could get some nice photographs with the 8-meter mirror. Here’s my telescope selfie:

    j
    Telescope selfie!

    The 8 meter mirror is so big it’s hard to fit into one single shot. This was the best I could do. Although some others are a bit more serious about their photography…

    men
    Markus sprawling out to get a nice shot of Lee, a journalist visiting us, with the telescope.

    Before the sun fully set, I ran outside to grab this image of the telescope dome open.

    g2
    The telescope dome open at sunset .

    Now back to observing!

    About Jason Wang
    Jason is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently working with Professor James Graham on the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). He works on GPI astrometry, the image reduction pipeline, and high contrast imaging techniques.

    See the full article here.

    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.


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  • richardmitnick 6:13 am on May 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Gemini Observatory: “Odd planet, so far from its star… “ 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    Science Contacts:

    Marie-Ève Naud
    CRAQ – Université de Montréal
    514 343-6111, ext 3797
    naud “at” astro.umontreal.ca

    René Doyon
    Director, Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic
    Professor, Department of Physics
    CRAQ – Université de Montréal
    514 343-6111, ext 3204
    doyon “at” astro.umontreal.ca

    Media Contacts:

    Olivier Hernandez, Ph. D.
    CRAQ – Université de Montréal / Head of Media Relations
    olivier “at” astro.umontreal.ca
    514 343-6111, ext 4681

    Peter Michaud
    Gemini Observatory Public Information and Outreach Office
    Hilo, Hawai‘i
    pmichaud “at” gemini.edu
    Desk: (808) 974-2510
    Cell: (808) 936-6643

    An international team led by Université de Montréal researchers has discovered and photographed a new planet 155 light years from our solar system.

    A gas giant has been added to the short list of exoplanets discovered through direct imaging. It is located around GU Psc, a star three times less massive than the Sun and located in the constellation Pisces. The international research team, led by Marie-Ève Naud, a PhD student in the Department of Physics at the Université de Montréal, was able to find this planet by combining observations from the Gemini Observatory, the Observatoire Mont-Mégantic (OMM), the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the W.M. Keck Observatory.

    Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
    Canada-France-Hawaii

    Keck Observatory
    Keck on Mauna Kea in Hawaii

    A distant planet that can be studied in detail

    GU Psc b is around 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from its star, a record among exoplanets. Given this distance, it takes approximately 80,000 Earth years for GU Psc b to make a complete orbit around its star! The researchers also took advantage of the large distance between the planet and its star to obtain images. By comparing images obtained in different wavelengths (colours) from the OMM and CFHT, they were able to correctly detect the planet.

    “Planets are much brighter when viewed in infrared rather than visible light, because their surface temperature is lower compared to other stars,” says Naud. “This allowed us to indentify GU Psc b.”

    Knowing where to look

    The researchers were looking around GU Psc because the star had just been identified as a member of the young star group AB Doradus. Young stars (only 100 million years old) are prime targets for planetary detection through imaging because the planets around them are still cooling and are therefore brighter. This does not mean that planets similar to GU Psc b exist in large numbers, as noted by by Étiene Artigau, co-supervisor of Naud’s thesis and astrophysicist at the Université de Montréal. “We observed more than 90 stars and found only one planet, so this is truly an astronomical oddity!”

    Observing a planet does not directly allow determining its mass. Instead, researchers use theoretical models of planetary evolution to determine its characteristics. The light spectrum of GU Psc b obtained from the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii was compared to such models to show that it has a temperature of around 800°C. Knowing the age of GU Psc due to its location in AB Doradus, the team was able to determine its mass, which is 9-13 times that of Jupiter.

    Gemini North telescope
    Gemini North, Mauna Kea Hawaii

    In the coming years, the astrophysicists hope to detect planets that are similar to GU Psc but much closer to their stars, thanks, among other things, to new instruments such as the GPI (Gemini Planet Imager) recently installed on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. The proximity of these planets to their stars will make them much more difficult to observe. GU Psc b is therefore a model for better understanding these objects.

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South, Cerro Pachón, Chile

    “GU Psc b is a true gift of nature. The large distance that separates it from its star allows it to be studied in depth with a variety of instruments, which will provide a better understanding of giant exoplanets in general,” says René Doyon, co-supervisor of Naud’s thesis and OMM Director.

    The team has started a project to observe several hundred stars and detect planets lighter than GU Psc b with similar orbits. The discovery of GU Psc, a rare object indeed, raises awareness of the significant distance that can exist between planets and their stars, opening the possibility of searching for planets with powerful infrared cameras using much smaller telescopes such at the one at the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic. The researchers also hope to learn more about the abundance of such objects in the next few years, in particular, using the Gemini Planet Imager, the CFHT’s SPIRou, and the James Webb Space Telescope’s FGS/NIRISS.

    About the study

    The article Discovery of a Wide Planetary-Mass Companion to the Young M3 Star GU Psc will be published in The Astrophysical Journal on May 20, 2014. The team, led by Marie-Ève Naud, doctoral student at the Department of Physics of the Université de Montréal and member of the CRAQ, consisted mainly of UdeM students and researchers, including Étienne Artigau, Lison Malo, Loïc Albert, René Doyon, David Lafrenière, Jonathan Gagné, and Anne Boucher. Collaborators from other institutions also participated, including Didier Saumon, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; Caroline Morley, UC Santa Cruz, California; France Allard and Derek Homeier, Centre for Astrophysical Research, Lyon, France; and Christopher Gelino and Charles Beichman, Caltech, California. The study was made possible with funding from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

    See the full article here.

    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.


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  • richardmitnick 8:39 am on April 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gemini Observatory,   

    From SETI Institute: “The orbit of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b – The first peer-reviewed article with GPI” 


    No Date

    Franck Marchis, Researcher at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007

    Following our very successful first light observing runs in late 2013, the first publication based on Gemini Planet Imager observations is now complete! It has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as part of a special issue on exoplanets, and is now available on Astro-ph. We report in this publication the performance of the Gemini Planet Imager based on the first light tests. The first scientific result demonstrates that right from the start, GPI has been performing well enough to yield new insights into exoplanets: Our astrometric observations from November 2013 gave us important new information on the orbit of the planet Beta Pictoris b.

    bp
    An annotated view of the Beta Pictoris system.

    NOAO Gemini Planet Imager
    Gemini Planet Imager

    Beta Pictoris b is a young planet orbiting the bright star Beta Pictoris located 63 light-year away from us. This young star is known for its debris disk which was the first one ever imaged. In 2010, direct imaging observations revealed the presence of a planet embedded in the disk.

    Only 12 million years old, or less than three-thousandths of the age of the Sun, Beta Pictoris is 75% more massive than our parent star. It is located about 60 light-years away towards the constellation of Pictor (the Painter) and is one of the best-known examples of a star surrounded by a dusty debris disk (Credit: ESO)

    With a declination of -51 deg and a magnitude in visible of 3.9 ( visible with unaided eye), Beta Pictoris was the perfect target to test our “brand new” adaptive optics system on November 18. The planet was observed in H-band, at roughly ~1.65 micron (in the near-infrared) and obtained 22 individual 60-second images in coronagraphic mode.

    The on-site observers reported with amazement that they were able to see the planet in a single, raw, 60-s exposure frame. This illustrated the great potential of our instrument to detect exoplanets, since with previous instrument the planet was only visible after roughly 1h of observation.

    The figure below shows the resulting image after applying the TLOCI algorithm. The planet in orbit around Beta Pictoris is detected with a signal-to-noise ratio of ~100.

    image

    The observations of GPI revealed a motion of the planet with respect to previous observations collected with previous AO systems on 6-8m class telescopes such as VLT/NACO, Gemini/NICI and the Magellan AO system. After gathering all those astrometric positions, and adding our point, we found out that the planet orbits at ~9 AU from its star with a period of ~20.5 years.

    The orbit is in agreement with previous orbit estimates but this additional point improved its accuracy significantly. First this work showed that the planet has recently turned around on its orbit. Secondly, it confirmed that the planet orbits in the same plane as the disk. Finally, the refined orbital parameters allowed to predict with a few percent confidence that the planet might transit its star in September through December 2017. It is possible that a similar transit of the planet across the star was observed in 1981.

    This work suggests that GPI, and other Extreme AO instruments with high contrast imaging, are about to open a new era in planetary system characterizations.

    Clear skies,

    Franck M.

    See the full article here.

    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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  • richardmitnick 8:14 am on April 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “World’s Most Powerful Planet Finder Turns its Eye to the Sky – Gemini Planet Imager Obtains First Light Images -“ 

    Tuesday, January 07 2014

    Karen Randall
    SETI Institute
    Email: krandall@seti.org
    Desk: (650) 960-4537

    Peter Michaud
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: pmichaud@gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643
    Desk: (808) 974-2510

    Science Contacts:

    Bruce Macintosh
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
    Email: macintosh1@llnl.gov
    Cell: 650-793-0969
    Desk: (650) 725-4116

    James Graham
    University of California
    Email: jrg@berkeley.edu

    Franck Marchis
    SETI Institute
    Email: fmarchis@seti.org
    Cell: (510) 599-0604

    After nearly a decade of development, construction, and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.

    The instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), was designed, built, and optimized for imaging faint planets next to bright stars and probing their atmospheres, and studying dusty disks around young stars. It is the most advanced such instrument to be deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes – the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.

    NOAO Gemini South
    Gemini South

    NOAO Gemini Planet Imager
    GPI

    “Even these early first-light images are almost a factor of 10 better than the previous generation of instruments. In one minute, we are seeing planets that used to take us an hour to detect,” says Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who led the team that built the instrument.

    GPI detects infrared (heat) radiation from young Jupiter-like planets in wide orbits around other stars, those equivalent to the giant planets in our own Solar System not long after their formation. Every planet GPI sees can be studied in detail.

    “Most planets that we know about to date are only known because of indirect methods that tell us a planet is there, a bit about its orbit and mass, but not much else,” says Macintosh. “With GPI we directly image planets around stars – it’s a bit like being able to dissect the system and really dive into the planet’s atmospheric makeup and characteristics.”

    GPI carried out its first observations last November – during an extremely trouble-free debut for an extraordinarily complex astronomical instrument the size of a small car. “This was one of the smoothest first-light runs Gemini has ever seen” says Stephen Goodsell, who manages the project for the observatory.

    For GPI’s first observations, the team targeted previously known planetary systems, including the well-known Beta Pictoris system; in it GPI obtained the first-ever spectrum of the very young planet Beta Pictoris b. The first-light team also used the instrument’s polarization mode – which can detect starlight scattered by tiny particles – to study a faint ring of dust orbiting the very young star HR4796. With previous instruments, only the ends of this dust ring, (which may be the debris remaining from planet formation), could be seen, but with GPI astronomers can follow the entire circumference of the ring. The group also observed the system of planets orbiting HR8799.

    Although GPI was designed to look at distant planets, it can also observe objects in our Solar System. The accompanying test images of Jupiter’s moon Europa, for example, can allow scientists to map changes in the satellite’s surface composition. The images were released today at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC.

    europa
    (Above) Comparison of Europa observed with Gemini Planet Imager in K1 band on the right and visible albedo visualization based on a composite map made from Galileo SSI and Voyager 1 and 2 data (from USGS) on the left. While GPI is not designed for ‘extended’ objects like this, its observations could help in following surface alterations on icy satellites of Jupiter or atmospheric phenomena (e.g. clouds, haze) on Saturn’s moon Titan. The GPI near-infrared color image is a combination of 3 wavelength channels.Processing by Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope, Science Institute and Franck Marchis, SETI Institute

    “Seeing a planet close to a star after just one minute, was a thrill, and we saw this on only the first week after the instrument was put on the telescope!” says Fredrik Rantakyro a Gemini staff scientist working on the instrument. “Imagine what it will be able to do once we tweak and completely tune its performance.”

    Exoplanets are extraordinarily faint and difficult to see next to a bright star,” notes GPI chief scientist Professor James R. Graham of the University of California who has worked with Macintosh on the project since its inception. GPI can see planets a million times fainter than their parent stars. Often described, ‘like trying to see a firefly circling a streetlight thousands of kilometers away,’ instruments used to image exoplanets must be designed and built to “excruciating tolerances,” points out Leslie Saddlemyer of NRC Herzberg (part of the National Research Council of Canada), who served as GPI’s systems engineer. “Each individual mirror inside GPI has to be smooth to within a few times the size of an atom,” Saddlemyer adds.

    “GPI represents an amazing technical achievement for the international team of scientists who conceived, designed, and constructed the instrument, as well as a hallmark of the capabilities of the Gemini telescopes. It is a highly-anticipated and well-deserved step into the limelight for the Observatory”, says Dr. Gary Schmidt, program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the project along with the other countries of the Gemini Observatory partnership.

    “After years of development and simulations and testing, it’s incredibly exciting now to be seeing real images and spectra of exoplanets observed with GPI. It’s just gorgeous data,” says Marshall Perrin of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

    “The entire exoplanet community is excited for GPI to usher in a whole new era of planet finding,” says physicist and exoplanet expert Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager, who is not affiliated with the project adds, “Each exoplanet detection technique has its heyday. First it was the radial velocity technique (ground-based planet searches that started the whole field). Second it was the transit technique (namely Kepler). Now,” she says, “it is the ‘direct imaging’ planet-finding technique’s turn to make waves.”

    In 2014, the GPI team will begin a large-scale survey, looking at 600 young stars to see what giant planets orbit them. GPI will also be available to the whole Gemini community for other projects, ranging from studies of planet-forming disks to outflows of dust from massive, dying stars.

    Looking through Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, even with advanced adaptive optics, GPI will only be able to see Jupiter-sized planets. But similar technology is being proposed for future space telescopes.

    “Some day, there will be an instrument that will look a lot like GPI, on a telescope in space,” Macintosh projects. “And the images and spectra that will come out of that instrument will show a little blue dot that is another Earth.”

    GPI is an international project led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) under Gemini’s supervision, with Macintosh as Principal Investigator and LLNL engineer David Palmer as project manager. LLNL also produced the advanced adaptive optics system that measures and corrects for atmospheric turbulence a thousand times a second. Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, led by Ben Oppenheimer, who also led a project demonstrating some of the same technologies used in GPI on the 5-meter Palomar project, designed special masks that are part of the instrument’s coronagraph which blocks the bright starlight that can obscure faint planets. Engineer Kent Wallace and a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory constructed an ultra-precise infrared wavefront sensor to measure small distortions in starlight that might mask a planet. A team at the University of California Los Angeles’ Infrared Laboratory, under the supervision of Professor James Larkin, together with Rene Doyon at the University of Montreal, assembled the infrared spectrograph that dissects the light from planets. Data analysis software written at University of Montreal and the Space Telescope Science Institute assembles the raw spectrograph data into three-dimensional cubes. NRC Herzberg in British Columbia Canada, built the mechanical structure and software that knits all the pieces together. James R. Graham, as project scientist, led the definition of the instrument’s capabilities. The instrument underwent extensive testing in a laboratory at the University of California Santa Cruz before shipping to Chile in August. The SETI institute in California manages GPI’s data and communications.

    See the full article here.

    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
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  • richardmitnick 8:09 pm on April 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gemini Observatory   

    From Gemini Observatory: “Sakurai’s Object: Stellar Evolution in Real Time” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    April 2, 2014
    Joint NOAO/Gemini Observatory Press Release

    Media Contacts:
    Dr. Katy Garmany
    Deputy Press Officer
    National Optical Astronomy Observatory
    950 N Cherry Ave, Tucson AZ 85719 USA
    Email: kgarmany”at”noao.edu
    Desk: +1 520-318-8526

    Peter Michaud
    Pubic Information and Outreach Manager
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: pmichaud”at”gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643
    Desk: (808) 974-2510
    Science Contacts:
    Dr. Ken Hinkle
    National Optical Astronomy Observatory
    950 N Cherry Ave, Tucson AZ 85719 USA
    Email: hinkle”at”noao.edu
    Desk:

    Stellar lifetimes are measured in billions of years, so changes in their appearance rarely take place on a human timescale. Thus an opportunity to observe a star passing from one stage of life to another on a timescale of months to years is very exciting, as there are only a very few examples known. One such star is Sakurai’s Object (V4334 Sgr). First reported by a Japanese amateur astronomer in 1996 as a “nova-like object,” Sakurai’s Object had been only a few years before the faint central star of a planetary nebula. In the 1990’s Sakurai’s Object brightened by a factor of 10000. This brightening has been attributed to a final helium shell flash. In this process the burned out core of the star at the center of the planetary nebula re-ignites.

    The final helium shell flash is violent, ejecting a cloud of dust and gas that forms a thick cocoon around the star blocking all visible light. By 2000 the dust cloud was so thick that Sakurai’s Object was not visible even with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Scientists at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) have been observing the sky in the area of Sakurai’s Object waiting for infrared radiation to break through the dust cloud. Infrared radiation penetrates dust much more efficiently than optical light. A detection of the infrared light would mean that the dust cloud is breaking apart, ultimately permitting light from the star to escape.

    Using the Altair adaptive optics (AO) system with the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i to compensate for distortions to starlight caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, two NOAO astronomers were able to observe the shell of escaping material around the star. According to Dr. Richard Joyce, who was in charge of the imaging program, “Using AO at Gemini gave us an unprecedented view into the heart of this object and showed us a number of faint stars where Sakurai’s Object should be.” The team compared the Gemini images to views by the Hubble Space Telescope, taken before Sakurai’s Object had faded from view, to obtain a precise location for the object. The Gemini AO images have a resolution of 0.04 arc second (this is equivalent to asking someone to tell if you are holding up one finger or two – from a distance of 200 miles) which clearly resolved many of the stars that ordinarily would be blurred together from ground-based telescopic views. “The initial Gemini images in 2010 showed a faint fuzzy spot near the Sakurai location. It’s amazing that we could see this level of detail,” says Joyce. “By 2013 Sakurai’s Object was obvious at this location with two ejected clouds thanks to these remarkable observations.”

    Gemini Altair Adaptive Optics System
    Altair adaptive optics (AO) system

    NOAO Gemini North
    NOAO Gemini North

    Dr. Kenneth Hinkle, lead author, says, “Sakurai’s object appears to be forming a bipolar nebula: in the past three years two lobes of gas have been observed moving outward from the central star. The bipolar nebula is roughly aligned to the planetary nebula. The planetary nebula is formed from gas lost more than 10000 years ago by the red giant. The co-alignment suggests that there is either a companion star or planet in the system.“ The accompanying artist’s conception represents what the present expanding shell of gas and dust around the star may look like. Because it is enshrouded in dust, Sakurai’s object is much brighter in the infrared region of the spectrum than in visible light. In this illustration the star appears bright red since blue light from the star is absorbed by the dust.

    bpn
    This image shows an example of a bipolar planetary nebula known as PN Hb 12 — popularly known as Hubble 12 — in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The striking shape of this nebula, reminiscent of a butterfly or an hourglass, was formed as a Sun-like star approached the end of its life and puffed its outer layers into the surrounding space. For bipolar nebulae, this material is funnelled towards the poles of the ageing star, creating the distinctive double-lobed structure.

    bpe
    The figure shows an oil painting done by Stephen Mack that represents what the present expanding shell of gas and dust around the star may look like. Mack is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Native American tribe on whose land the Kitt Peak National Observatory, which is managed by NOAO, is located.

    Observations using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the [ESO] NTT have found that bipolar planetary nebulae located towards the central bulge of our Milky Way appear to be strangely aligned in the sky — a surprising result given their varied and chaotic formation.

    As stars like the sun reach the end of their lives they expand and cool to become luminous red giants. When their nuclear fuel is exhausted a resulting stellar core, a cooling ember, is called a white dwarf. However, in 10-15 percent of stars like the sun enough hydrogen and helium remains to start nuclear burning again, rapidly re-igniting the faint white dwarf. This phase is called a final flash. While not uncommon, this pulse lasts for such a short time that seeing it is very rare: there are only three stars currently known to be undergoing final flash evolution. Estimates of the frequency of such a final flash object in our galaxy suggest that one occurs about once every ten years. The previous one observed by astronomers erupted in 1919.

    wd
    Image of Sirius A and Sirius B taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Sirius B, which is a white dwarf, can be seen as a faint pinprick of light to the lower left of the much brighter Sirius A.

    Located in the constellation Sagittarius, in the direction of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, the distance to Sakurai’s object can be measured from the expansion of the dust cloud. The current data show that it is about 6800 to 12000 light years from Earth. As the cloud of debris expands it will be possible to refine our knowledge of the distance and other parameters of this interesting object.

    The team’s results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

    The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) is operated by Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here.

    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.


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  • richardmitnick 11:58 am on January 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Gemini Observatory,   

    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “Powerful Planet Finder Turns Its Eye to the Sky” 

    January 07, 2014
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.

    image

    The instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), was designed, built, and optimized for imaging giant planets next to bright stars, in addition to studying dusty disks around young stars. It is the most advanced instrument of its kind to be deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes – the 26-foot (8-meter) Gemini South telescope in Chile.

    gpi

    Imaging a planet next to a star is a tricky task. The planet is much fainter than its star, and also appears very close. These challenges make the act of separating the planet’s light from the glare of the star difficult. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., contributed to the project by designing and building an ultra-precise infrared sensor to measure small distortions in starlight that might mask a planet.

    “Our tasks were two-fold,” said Kent Wallace, JPL’s subsystem technical lead for the project. “First, keep the star centered on the instrument so that its glare is blocked as much as possible. Second, ensure the instrument itself is stable during the very long exposures required to image faint companions.”

    GPI detects infrared, or heat, radiation from young Jupiter-like planets in wide orbits around other stars. Those are equivalent to the giant planets in our own solar system not long after their formation. Every planet GPI sees can be studied in detail, revealing components of their atmospheres.

    Although GPI was designed to look at distant planets, it can also observe objects in our solar system. Test images of Jupiter’s moon Europa, for example, can allow scientists to map changes in the satellite’s surface composition. The images were released today at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo
    jpl


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  • richardmitnick 8:50 pm on January 9, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Gemini Observatory   

    From Gemini Observatory: “NEXT-GENERATION ADAPTIVE OPTICS BRINGS REMARKABLE DETAILS TO LIGHT IN STELLAR NURSERY” 

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    For release on Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    “Figure 1. This image, obtained during the late commissioning phase of the GeMS adaptive optics system, with the Gemini South AO Imager (GSAOI) on the night of December 28, 2012, reveals exquisite details in the outskirts of the Orion Nebula. The large adaptive optics field-of-view (85 arcseconds across) demonstrates the system’s extreme resolution and uniform correction across the entire field. The three filters used for this composite color image include [Fe II], H2, and, K(short)-continuum (2.093 microns) for blue, orange, and white layers respectively. The natural seeing while these data were taken ranged from about 0.8 to 1.1 arcseconds, with AO corrected images ranging from 0.084 to 0.103 arcsecond. Each filter had a total integration (exposure) of 600 seconds. In this image, the blue spots are clouds of gaseous iron “bullets” being propelled at supersonic speeds from a region of massive star formation outside, and below, this image’s field-of-view. As these “bullets” pass through neutral hydrogen gas it heats up the hydrogen and produces the pillars that trace the passage of the iron clouds.

    image 1

    This animation [below]compares the images obtained with Altair in 2007 with the new GeMS version obtained in December 2012. As the bullets (the blue dots at the end of the orange pillar) are moving at supersonic speeds, the comparison with the 2007 image illustrates this motion. In the new image, each single bullet has moved away from the star forming region located below the image’s field-of-view and thanks to the high-resolution of AO correction these motions are easily detectable. Moreover, as the new GeMS/GSAOI instrument combination covers a larger field, more of these bullets can be monitored at once.

    image2
    Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

    Principal Investigator(s): John Bally and Adam Ginsberg, University of Colorado and the GeMS/GSAOI commissioning team; Data processing/reduction: Rodrigo Carrasco, Gemini Observatory; Color image composite: Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

    Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

    A new image released today reveals how Gemini Observatory’s most advanced adaptive optics (AO) system will help astronomers study the universe with an unprecedented level of clarity and detail by removing distortions due to the Earth’s atmosphere. The photo, featuring an area on the outskirts of the famous Orion Nebula, illustrates the instrument’s significant advancements over previous-generation AO systems.

    ‘The combination of a constellation of five laser guide stars with multiple deformable mirrors allows us to expand significantly on what has previously been possible using adaptive optics in astronomy,’ said Benoit Neichel, who currently leads this adaptive optics program for Gemini. ‘For years our team has focused on developing this system, and to see this magnificent image, just hinting at its scientific potential, made our nights on the mountain – while most folks were celebrating the New Year’s holiday – the best celebration ever!'”

    guide
    Figure 3. Propagation of the Gemini South Laser. Gemini Images by Manuel Paredes.
    Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

    AURA Icon

    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile

    The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.
    Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of six countries including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Any astronomer in these countries can apply for time on Gemini, which is allocated in proportion to each partner’s financial stake.


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