From Gemini: “GPIES May 2016 Observing Run: Women in Astronomy” Women in Science


Gemini Observatory
Gemini Observatory

May 30, 2016
Katie Morzinski

Hello GPI fans! We are just wrapping up our cloudy, snowy May 2016 GPIES observing run. While the weather wasn’t the best, we accomplished what we could in between the clouds. We also enjoyed the fact that this was the first all-woman run that any of the 5 of us had ever been on. It was a celebration of women in astronomy!

Winter in Chile means snow in the high mountains to the East, as well as a chance of snow at the slightly lower telescope mountains. Here is a wintery view out my window on the plane ride in:

View out the airplane window from Santiago to La Serena

When we arrived at Gemini we were happy to see the cute little zorro that hangs out around the dorms:

Here is a cute little zorro that hangs out by the dorms. Great picture by Kate.

We got a tour of the telescope. It was the first time GPIES student Sarah Blunt had been to Chile, and the rest of us enjoy seeing Gemini again anyway.

Here we are dwarfed by the telescope. From left to right: Katie, Sarah, Jenny, Kim

Gaetano gave us a tour of the telescope. Here we are going up the stairs from the dome floor to the platform.

The observing team for the May 2016 GPIES run. From left: Kate Follette, Kim Ward-Duong, Sarah Blunt, Jenny Patience, and Katie Morzinski

enny and Kate led the team and the run, while Kim and Sarah and I were there to help out. We also had assistance on-site from Gemini scientist and GPIES team member Fredrik Rantakyro, as well as other Gemini staff. Remote support was provided by GPIES team members Vanessa Bailey, Rob de Rosa, Jeff Chilcote, and Bruce Macintosh on the Polycom, and others by email and Slack. The reason for such a large complex team is that we optimize the observing campaign to maximize the chance of finding planets.

What does observing for the GPIES campaign involve? Well, 1 person selects targets and directs the night (this was Kate and Jenny), 1 person runs GPI and takes the data (this was Kate and me), 1 person records the log and updates the team (this was Sarah and Kim and me), 1 person runs the pipeline and evaluates the quality of the data (this was Kim and Kate), and 1 person synthesizes and analyzes the progress and makes the big decisions about how best to optimize our time (this was mostly Jenny and a bit Kate).

What are these big decisions about how to best optimize our time? For example, one night the clouds had cleared up a bit but the seeing wasn’t that great, so I took a few data sets while Kim, Kate, and Sarah evaluated the data quality. Then Jenny was comparing our data quality to histograms made by GPIES team members Rob de Rosa and Abhi Rajan to determine whether our data quality was good enough to improve the chances of detecting a planet around the star in question. It was not, so we decided to hand the next hour of observing over to Fredrik to run a GPI queue program. This optimizes use of the telescope for everyone, because we can try to observe that particular star on a different night, while Gemini can get some good science out of its poorer weather by observing targets for a program that doesn’t require the best conditions.

Jenny directs the May 2016 GPIES observing team

The May 2016 GPIES observing team at work

Well, in astronomy as in life, you never know what Mother Earth is going to throw at you. Unfortunately, this run we had a lot of weather, meaning clouds that make for beautiful photos but poor observing:


A beautiful backdrop is bad news for astronomers

Virgas* streaming down from the clouds (*A virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation, whereas a viga is a wooden beam characteristic of adobe buildings of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.)

Sunset through the louvers from inside the Gemini dome.

Finally, on the second-to-last day it started snowing, so we had to write off our last night, and chose to head down the mountain a day early to ensure we would catch our flights, since the snow meant the dome would be covered and would not be able to open that night:

Snow on the hillside

Snow at Gemini

The weather was disappointing, but I did have a good time helping out run GPI and discussing the finer points of AO with Vanessa and planet-finding with Jenny, Kate, Kim, and Sarah. The complex GPI instrument and GPIES campaign are made possible by a great collaboration that communicates well to make the best use of our time and observing conditions. Better luck next run, GPIES!

About Katie Morzinski
Katie Morzinski is a NASA Sagan Fellow, a member of the GPI instrument and GPIES science teams, and the MagAO Instrument Scientist at the University of Arizona.

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Gemini North
Gemini North, Hawai’i

Gemini South
Gemini South, Chile

Gemini’s mission is to advance our knowledge of the Universe by providing the international Gemini Community with forefront access to the entire sky.

The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration with two identical 8-meter telescopes. The Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope is located on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i (Gemini North) and the other telescope on Cerro Pachón in central Chile (Gemini South); together the twin telescopes provide full coverage over both hemispheres of the sky. The telescopes incorporate technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors, under active control, to collect and focus both visible and infrared radiation from space.

The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in six partner countries with state-of-the-art astronomical facilities that allocate observing time in proportion to each country’s contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also contributes significant scientific and technical resources. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Cientifica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva, and the Brazilian Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação. The observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.