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  • richardmitnick 9:20 am on May 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From phys.org: “Discovery shows what the solar system looked like as a ‘toddler'” 

    physdotorg
    phys.org

    May 27, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    Left: Image of HD 115600 showing a bright debris ring viewed nearly edge-on and located just beyond a Pluto-like distance to the star. Right: A model of the HD 115600 debris ring on the same scale. Credit: T. Currie

    Astronomers have discovered a disc of planetary debris surrounding a young sun-like star that shares remarkable similarities with the Kuiper Belt that lies beyond Neptune, and may aid in understanding how our solar system developed.

    2
    Kuiper Belt

    An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, has identified a young planetary system which may aid in understanding how our own solar system formed and developed billions of years ago.

    Using the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South telescope in Chile, the researchers identified a dTisc-shaped bright ring of dust around a star only slightly more massive than the sun, located 360 light years away in the Centaurus constellation.

    Gemini Planet Imager
    GPI

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South

    The disc is located between about 37 and 55 Astronomical Units (3.4 – 5.1 billion miles) from its host star, which is almost the same distance as the solar system’s Kuiper Belt is from the sun. The brightness of the disc, which is due to the starlight reflected by it, is also consistent with a wide range of dust compositions including the silicates and ice present in the Kuiper Belt.

    The Kuiper Belt lies just beyond Neptune, and contains thousands of small icy bodies left over from the formation of the solar system more than four billion years ago. These objects range in size from specks of debris dust, all the way up to moon-sized objects like Pluto – which used to be classified as a planet, but has now been reclassified as a dwarf planet.

    The star observed in this new study is a member of the massive 10-20 million year-old Scorpius-Centaurus OB association, a region similar to that in which the sun was formed. The disc is not perfectly centred on the star, which is strong indication that it was likely sculpted by one or more unseen planets. By using models of how planets shape a debris disc, the team found that ‘eccentric’ versions of the giant planets in the outer solar system could explain the observed properties of the ring.

    “It’s almost like looking at the outer solar system when it was a toddler,” said principal investigator Thayne Currie, an astronomer at the Subaru Observatory in Hawaii.

    The current theory on the formation of the solar system holds that it originated within a giant molecular cloud of hydrogen, in which clumps of denser material formed. One of these clumps, rotating and collapsing under its own gravitation, formed a flattened spinning disc known as the solar nebula. The sun formed at the hot and dense centre of this disc, while the planets grew by accretion in the cooler outer regions. The Kuiper Belt is believed to be made up of the remnants of this process, so there is a possibility that once the new system develops, it may look remarkably similar to our solar system.

    “To be able to directly image planetary birth environments around other stars at orbital distances comparable to the solar system is a major advancement,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, one of the paper’s co-authors. “Our discovery of a near-twin of the Kuiper Belt provides direct evidence that the planetary birth environment of the solar system may not be uncommon.”

    This is the first discovery with the new cutting-edge Gemini instrument. “In just one of our many 50-second exposures we could see what previous instruments failed to see in more than 50 minutes,” said Currie.

    The star, going by the designation HD 115600, was the first object the research team looked at. “Over the next few years, I’m optimistic that GPI will reveal many more debris discs and young planets. Who knows what strange, new worlds we will find,” Currie added.

    The paper is accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    See the full article here.

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    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on April 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gemini Observatory   

    From Gemini Observatory: “Star Pair’s Dusty Disk Shines Light on Planet Formation” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    April 2, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    Left: J-band polarized intensity (P⊥) images. Right: P⊥ scaled by r2, where r is the distance in pixels from the central binary, corrected for projection effects. Both images are shown on a linear scale and oriented north up and east left. The coronagraph is represented by the black filled circles.

    Astronomers using the Gemini South telescope in Chile have discovered striking new evidence for planet formation in a dusty disk surrounding a pair of stars in Sagittarius. The team took advantage of an offering for Early Science using the Gemini Planet Imager [GPI] to study infrared light scattered off dust grains in the disk around the binary system V4046 Sgr.

    Gemini Planet Imager
    GPI

    “The Gemini Planet Imager allows us to study nearby planet forming disks in sufficient detail that we can obtain direct-image evidence for young planets in orbits similar to those of the giant planets in our own solar system,” says Valerie Rapson of the Rochester Institute of Technology, who led the research team. Indeed, the GPI imaging reveals an intriguing double ring structure around the V4046 Sgr binary that is most likely due to the formation of a giant planet (or planets) at some 4-12 times the Earth-Sun distance (approximately between Jupiter and Uranus, if orbiting our Sun).”This is perhaps the best such evidence yet for planet formation so close to a binary system,” says Rapson. Analysis of the data also indicates that the dust grains orbiting the star are sorted by particle size, as predicted by recent planet formation models. The result is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and the preprint is at http://arxiv.org/abs/1503.06192, see abstract below.

    Abstract:

    We report the presence of scattered light from dust grains located in the giant planet formation region of the circumbinary disk orbiting the ∼20-Myr-old close (∼0.045 AU separation) binary system V4046 Sgr AB based on observations with the new Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) instrument. These GPI images probe to within ∼7 AU of the central binary with linear spatial resolution of ∼3 AU, and are thereby capable of revealing dust disk structure within a region corresponding to the giant planets in our solar system. The GPI imaging reveals a relatively narrow (FWHM ∼10 AU) ring of polarized near-infrared flux whose brightness peaks at ∼14 AU. This ∼14 AU radius ring is surrounded by a fainter outer halo of scattered light extending to ∼45 AU, which coincides with previously detected mm-wave thermal dust emission. The presence of small grains that efficiently scatter starlight well inside the mm-wavelength disk cavity supports current models of planet formation that suggest planet-disk interactions can generate pressure traps that impose strong radial variations in the particle size distribution throughout the disk.

    See the full article here.

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    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
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    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 4:34 am on March 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Gemini: “FAR FROM HOME: WAYWARD CLUSTER IS BOTH TINY AND DISTANT “ 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    March 3, 2015
    Media Contacts:

    Peter Michaud
    Public Information and Outreach
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: pmichaud”at”gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643

    Science Contacts:

    Dongwon Kim
    Australia National University
    Email: dongwon.kim”at”anu.edu.au
    Office: +61 2 6125 8022

    Helmut Jerjen
    Australia National University
    Email: helmut.jerjen”at”anu.edu.au
    Office: +61 2 6125 8038

    1
    GMOS image of Kim 2, in g band. The image is 4 arcminutes across.

    Like the lost little puppy that wanders too far from home, astronomers have found an unusually small and distant group of stars that seems oddly out of place. The cluster, made of only a handful of stars, is located far away, in the Milky Way’s “suburbs.” It is located where astronomers have never spotted such a small cluster of stars before.

    The new star cluster was discovered by Dongwon Kim, a PhD student at the Australian National University (ANU), together with a team of astronomers (Helmut Jerjen, Antonino Milone, Dougal Mackey, and Gary Da Costa) who are conducting the Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey* at ANU.

    “This cluster is faint, very faint, and truly in the suburbs of our Milky Way,” said Kim. “In fact, this group of stars is about ten times more distant than the average globular star cluster in the halo of our galaxy — it’s a lost puppy,” Mackey adds. Globular clusters are spherical cities of stars that form a vast, extended halo around the core of our galaxy, the brightest of which are easily seen in amateur telescopes or even binoculars. However, this new discovery required one of the world’s largest telescopes to confirm, “it’s definitely a diminutive oddball,” says Milone.

    The oddly small, far-flung, cluster was discovered using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the 4-meter Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. “This discovery sheds new light on the formation and evolution of the Milky Way,” said Daniel Evans, National Science Foundation program director for Gemini Observatory. “It’s great to see so many telescopes come together to produce this result, not the least being Gemini Observatory with its incredible light-gathering power.”

    CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope
    CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope interior
    Dark Energy Camera
    4-meter Blanco Telescope and DECam

    The team’s first evidence of the unusually remote star cluster came when they ran detection algorithms on a 500 square-degree imaging data field obtained with DECam. “Such objects are too faint and optically elusive to be seen by eye. The cluster stars are sprinkled so thinly over the image, you look right through them without noticing. They are hiding in the sea of stars from the Milky Way. Sophisticated computer programs are our tools to find them,” said Jerjen.

    Because it is so faint, ultra-deep follow-up observations using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph [GMOS] (in imaging mode) confirmed that the new globular cluster is among the faintest Milky Way globular clusters ever found.

    Gemini Multi Object Spectrograph
    GMOS

    Seven out of 150 known Milky Way globular clusters are comparably faint but none are located as far out toward the edge of the Milky Way. This new globular cluster has 10-20 times fewer stars than any of the other outer halo globular clusters. Also, its star density is less than half of that of other Milky Way globular clusters in the same luminosity (brightness) range.

    The new star cluster, named Kim 2, also shows evidence of significant mass loss over its history. Computer simulations predict that, as a consequence of their evolution over many billions of years, including the slow loss of member stars due to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way, star clusters ought to be arranged such that their more massive stars are concentrated toward their centers. “This ‘mass segregation’ has been difficult to observe, particularly in low mass clusters, but the excellent Gemini data reveal that Kim 2 appears to be mass segregated and has therefore likely lost much of its original mass,” said Da Costa. The finding suggests that a substantial number of low-luminosity globular clusters must have existed in the halo when the Milky Way was younger, but most of them might have evaporated due to internal dynamical processes.

    The observed properties of the new star cluster also raise the question about how such a low luminosity system could have survived until today. One possible scenario is that Kim 2 is not actually a genuine member of the Milky Way globular cluster family, but a star cluster originally located in a satellite dwarf galaxy and was accreted into the Milky Way’s halo. This picture is also supported by the fact that the stars in Kim 2 appear to be more chemically enriched with heavier elements than the other outer halo globular clusters and are young relative to the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way. As a consequence of spending much of its life in a dwarf galaxy Kim 2 could have largely escaped the destructive influence of tidal forces, thus helping it to survive until the present epoch.

    There are many Milky Way globular clusters formerly and currently associated with satellite dwarf galaxies. It is possible that a significant fraction of the ancient satellite dwarf galaxies were completely disrupted by the tidal field of the Milky Way while the high density of the globular clusters allowed them to survive in our galaxy’s halo. Indeed, Kim 2 is found close to the vast polar structure of Milky Way satellite galaxies, a disc-like region surrounding the Milky Way where satellite galaxies and young halo clusters preferentially congregate. A similar distribution of satellite galaxies is also found in the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy.

    A large fraction of the Milky Way’s halo is thought to be populated with optically elusive satellite galaxies and star clusters. New discoveries of satellite galaxies and globular clusters will therefore provide valuable information about the formation and the structure of the Milky Way. Previous surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have contributed to many new discoveries in the northern sky. However, most of the southern sky still remains unexplored to date. The detection of Kim 2 suggests that there are a substantial number of interesting astronomical objects waiting to be discovered in the southern hemisphere and the Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey team plans to continue searching for them.

    The team’s paper, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, is available as a preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1502.03952.

    • The Stromlo Milky Way Satellite Survey is led by Australian National University’s Associate Professor Helmut Jerjen. The research team includes Dongwon Kim, Antonino Milone, Dougal Mackey, and Gary Da Costa (all from the Australian National University). See project website at: http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~jerjen/SMS_Survey.html

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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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 4:17 pm on January 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Gemini Observatory   

    From Astronomy- “Galactic herding: new image brings galaxy diversity to life” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    January 08, 2015
    No Writer Credit
    By Gemini Observatory, Hilo, Hawaii

    A new Gemini image of galaxy group VV 166 provides clarity and definition to the group’s different morphological types.

    Gemini North telescope
    Gemini North Interior
    Gemini North, Mauna Kea, Hawaii

    Galaxy groups are the most evident structures in the nearby universe. They are important laboratories for studying how galaxies form and evolve beyond our Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. Exploring the nature of these extragalactic “herds” may help unlock the secrets to the overall structure of the universe.

    l
    Andrew Z. Colvin

    Herd dynamics

    Unlike animal herds, which are generally the same species traveling together, most galaxies move through space in associations composed of myriad types, shapes, and sizes. Galaxy groups differ in their richness, size, and internal structure as well as the ages of their members. Some group galaxies are composed mainly of ancient stars, while others radiate with the power and splendor of youth.

    These facts raise important questions for astronomers: Do all the galaxies in a group share a common origin? Are some just chance alignments? Or do galaxy groups pick up “strays” along the way and amalgamate them into the group?

    Probing galactic group interiors

    The new Gemini image of a grouping called VV 166, named after its position in the catalog by B. Vorontsov-Vel’yaminov, provides clarity and definition to the group’s different morphological types despite its great distance of about 300 million light-years — some 30 times farther away than the closest galaxy groups to our Local Group. One of its most fascinating features is a perfect alignment of three disparate galaxies in a precise equilateral triangle: blue-armed spiral NGC 70 at top, elliptical galaxy NGC 68 to its lower right, and lenticular galaxy NGC 71 to its lower left.

    70
    NGC 70, located in the central NGC 68 group. The galaxies below are NGC 68 (right) and NGC 71 (left)

    The blue spiral (NGC 70) looks like an elephant among lions. This massive galaxy is impressive as it spans 180,000 light-years, or nearly twice the extent of the Milky Way’s reach. Its spiral arms appear blue because they are dominated by active regions of star formation. Here, hot young stars burn with an intense blue light that overpowers that from any older red and yellow stars that might populate the galaxy.

    The opposite is true in the galaxy’s central bulge, where the extinction of star formation has left it to glow with the warm light of ancient red giant and supergiant suns. The galaxy’s sharp starlike core is a telltale sign of an active galactic nucleus powered by a centrally located supermassive black hole feasting on a disk of interstellar gas only a few light-days across.

    In contrast, NGC 68 (lower right) is a much older system known as an elliptical galaxy. NGC 68 is about half the size of the blue spiral and hosts little dust and gas, so star formation is all but absent, as is any spiral structure; the galaxy’s overall yellowish hue reveals that most of its stars are old and red. If there’s an outlier in the image, it might be NGC 68, given that it is about 20 million light-years closer to us than NGC 70. In fact, some researchers have argued that NGC 68 is nothing but a chance alignment. Indeed, while small galaxy groups prevail in the nearby universe, many may not be real gravitationally bound systems at all. But this does not appear to be the case with VV 166, for most of these galaxies are indeed bound as a group.

    Although NGC 71 looks much like NGC 68 — a smooth featureless glow, below and to the left of NGC 68 — it is actually a lens-shaped galaxy seen face on, so it appears more like a sphere. Lenticular galaxies are mysterious creatures, as they appear to be trapped between classifications: like a spiral galaxy, it has a bulge and a disk but no spiral arms; like an elliptical galaxy, it is largely devoid of dust and gas. Possibly galaxies like NGC 71 were originally spiral systems and have either consumed or somehow lost their interstellar material through other galactic interactions.

    The image also shows possible evidence for such a dynamic interaction. Careful inspection reveals that blue spiral’s arms appear distorted between NGC 68 and NGC 71, indicating a possible tidal interaction with one or more of the galaxies. These graceful interactions are choreographed as the group whizzes collectively through space at about 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) per second. The image also sharply resolves a flurry of starlight around the elliptical and lenticular systems. Often the brightest cluster galaxy has an extraordinarily diffuse and extended outer halo.

    Just beyond the triangle to the lower left is the group’s fourth-brightest member, a barred spiral galaxy known as NGC 72. Its prominent bar slices across its nucleus. Dusty arms wind out from either end of the bar and form a distinct nuclear ring — the result of recent star formation. Our Milky Way Galaxy has a similar bar component spanning nearly 30,000 light-years from end to end, as well as a circumnuclear ring. But we have evidence that our Milky Way is a “grand-design” spiral with more splendid and numerous arms.

    Despite the apparent diversity of galaxy types in VV 166, the relative proportions of morphologies that we see here may provide a representative sample of galactic types found throughout the universe. It’s possible that some members of VV 166 may have grown by drawing in smaller galaxies from the local environment and consuming them. Or, perhaps, like some herds of animals, galaxy groups may be joined by other “species” — sometimes passively, sometimes violently; this would help to explain the observed mix of morphological types in these groups.

    On the larger cosmological scale, galaxy groups are like beads in the long filamentary structures that make up the skeleton of our universe. These filaments are made up of isolated galaxies, groups, clusters, and superclusters. In time, the isolated galaxies may merge with the groups, which will themselves merge with other groups to form larger clusters of galaxies. As with the animal kingdom, the universe has its hierarchy and includes all things great, and even greater.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:52 pm on January 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gemini Observatory,   

    From Gemini Observatory: “THE GEMINI PLANET IMAGER PRODUCES STUNNING OBSERVATIONS IN ITS FIRST YEAR” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    January 6, 2015
    Media Contacts:

    Peter Michaud
    Public Information and Outreach Manager
    Gemini Observatory, Hilo, HI
    Email: pmichaud”at”gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643
    Desk: (808) 974-2510

    Science Contacts:

    Marshall Perrin
    STScI
    Email: mperrin”at”stsci.edu
    Phone: (410) 507-5483

    James R. Graham
    University of California Berkeley
    Email: jrg”at”berkeley.edu
    Cell: (510) 926-9820

    Stunning exoplanet images and spectra from the first year of science operations with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) were featured today in a press conference at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington. The Gemini Planet Imager GPI is an advanced instrument designed to observe the environments close to bright stars to detect and study Jupiter-like exoplanets (planets around other stars) and see protostellar material (disk, rings) that might be lurking next to the star.

    1
    Figure 1. GPI imaging of the planetary system HR 8799 in K band, showing 3 of the 4 planets. (Planet b is outside the field of view shown here, off to the left.) These data were obtained on November 17, 2013 during the first week of operation of GPI and in relatively challenging weather conditions, but with GPI’s advanced adaptive optics system and coronagraph the planets can still be clearly seen and their spectra measured (see Figure 2). Image credit: Christian Marois (NRC Canada), Patrick Ingraham (Stanford University) and the GPI Team.

    2
    Figure 2. GPI spectroscopy of planets c and d in the HR 8799 system. While earlier work showed that the planets have similar overall brightness and colors, these newly-measured spectra show surprisingly large differences. The spectrum of planet d increases smoothly from 1.9-2.2 microns while planet c’s spectrum shows a sharper kink upwards just beyond 2 microns. These new GPI results indicate that these similar-mass and equal-age planets nonetheless have significant differences in atmospheric properties, for in-stance more open spaces between patchy cloud cover on planet c versus uniform cloud cover on planet d, or perhaps differences in atmospheric chemistry. These data are helping refine and improve a new generation of atmospheric models to explain these effects. Image credit: Patrick Ingraham (Stanford University), Mark Marley (NASA Ames), Didier Saumon (Los Alamos National Laboratory) and the GPI Team.

    Marshall Perrin (Space Telescope Science Institute), one of the instrument’s team leaders, presented a pair of recent and promising results at the press conference. He revealed some of the most detailed images and spectra ever of the multiple planet system HR 8799. His presentation also included never-seen details in the dusty ring of the young star HR 4796A. “GPI’s advanced imaging capabilities have delivered exquisite images and data,” said Perrin. “These improved views are helping us piece together what’s going on around these stars, yet also posing many new questions.”

    The GPI spectra obtained for two of the planetary members of the HR 8799 system presents a challenge for astronomers. GPI team member Patrick Ingraham (Stanford University), lead the paper on HR 8799. Ingraham reports that the shape of the spectra for the two planets differ more profoundly than expected based on their similar colors, indicating significant differences between the companions. “Current atmospheric models of exoplanets cannot fully explain the subtle differences in color that GPI has revealed. We infer that it may be differences in the coverage of the clouds or their composition.” Ingraham adds, “The fact that GPI was able to extract new knowledge from these planets on the first commissioning run in such a short amount of time, and in conditions that it was not even designed to work, is a real testament to how revolutionary GPI will be to the field of exoplanets.”

    Perrin, who is working to understand the dusty ring around the young star HR 4796A, said that the new GPI data present an unprecedented level of detail in studies of the ring’s polarized light. “GPI not only sees the disk more clearly than previous instruments, it can also measure how polarized its light appears, which has proven crucial in under-standing its physical properties.” Specifically, the GPI measurements of the ring show it must be partially opaque, implying it is far denser and more tightly compressed than similar dust found in the outskirts of our own Solar System, which is more diffuse. The ring circling HR 4796A is about twice the diameter of the planetary orbits in our Solar System and its star about twice our Sun’s mass. “These data taken during GPI commissioning show how exquisitely well its polarization mode works for studying disks. Such observations are critical in advancing our understanding of all types and sizes of planetary systems – and ultimately how unique our own solar system might be,” said Perrin.

    3
    Figure 3. GPI imaging polarimetry of the circumstellar disk around HR 4796A, a ring of dust and planetesimals similar in some ways to a scaled up version of the solar system’s Kuiper Belt.

    Kuiper Belt
    Kuiper Belt, for illustration of the discussion

    These GPI observations reveal a complex pattern of variations in brightness and polarization around the HR 4796A disk. The western side (tilted closer to the Earth) appears brighter in polarized light, while in total intensity the eastern side appears slightly brighter, particularly just to the east of the widest apparent separation points of the disk. Reconciling this complex and apparently-contradictory pattern of brighter and darker regions required a major overhaul of our understanding of this circumstellar disk. Image credit: Marshall Perrin (Space Telescope Science Institute), Gaspard Duchene (UC Berkeley), Max Millar-Blanchaer (University of Toronto), and the GPI Team.

    4
    Figure 4. Diagram depicting the GPI team’s revised model for the orientation and composition of the HR 4796A ring. To explain the observed polarization levels, the disk must consist of relatively large (> 5 µm) silicate dust particles, which scatter light most strongly and polarize it more for forward scattering. To explain the relative faintness of the east side in total intensity, the disk must be dense enough to be slightly opaque, comparable to Saturn’s optically thick rings, such that on the near side of the disk our view of its brightly illuminated inner portion is partially obscured. This revised model requires the disk to be much narrower and flatter than expected, and poses a new challenge for theories of disk dynamics to explain. GPI’s high contrast imaging and polarimetry capabilities together were essential for this new synthesis. Image credit: Marshall Perrin (Space Telescope Science Institute).

    During the commissioning phase, the GPI team observed a variety of targets, ranging from asteroids in our solar system, to an old star near its death. Other teams of scientists have been using GPI as well and already astronomers around the world have published eight papers in peer-reviewed journals using GPI data. “This might be the most productive new instrument Gemini has ever had,” said Professor James Graham of the University of California, who leads the GPI science team and who will describe the GPI exoplanet survey in a talk scheduled at the AAS meeting on Thursday, January 8th.

    The Gemini Observatory staff integrated the complex instrument into the telescope’s software and helped to characterize GPI’s performance. “Even though it’s so complicated, GPI now operates almost automatically,” said Gemini’s instrument scientist for GPI Fredrik Rantakyro. “This allows us to start routine science operations.” The instrument is now available to astronomers and their proposals are scheduled to start ob-serving in early 2015. In addition, “shared risk” observations are already underway, starting in November 2014.

    The one thing GPI hasn’t done yet is discovered a new planet. “For the early tests, we concentrated on known planets or disks” said GPI PI Bruce Macintosh. Now that GPI is fully operational, the search for new planets has begun. In addition to observations by astronomers world-wide, the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) will look at 600 carefully selected stars over the next few years. GPI ‘sees’ planets through the infrared light they emit when they’re young, so the GPIES team has assembled a list of the youngest and closest stars. So far the team has observed 50 stars, and analysis of the data is ongoing. Discovering a planet requires confirmation observations to distinguish a true planet orbiting the target star from a distant star that happens to sneak into GPI’s field of view – a process that could take years with previous instruments. The GPIES team found one such object in their first survey run, but GPI observations were sensitive enough to almost immediately rule it out. Macintosh said, “With GPI, we can tell almost instantly that something isn’t a planet – rather than months of uncertainty, we can get over our disappointment almost immediately. Now it’s time to find some real planets!”

    About GPI/GPIES

    The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) instrument was constructed by an international collaboration led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Gemini’s supervision. The GPI Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) is the core science program to be carried out with it. GPIES is led by Bruce Macintosh, now a professor at Stanford University and James Graham, professor at the University of California at Berkeley and is designed to find young, Jupiter-like exoplanets. They survey will observe 600 young nearby stars in 890 hours over three years. Targets have been carefully selected by team members at Arizona State University, the University of Georgia, and UCLA. The core of the data processing architecture is led by Marshall Perrin of the Space Telescope Science Institute, with the core software originally written by University of Montreal, data management infrastructure from UC Berkeley and Cornell University, and contributions from all the other team institutions. The SETI institute located in California manages GPIES’s communications and public out-reach. Several teams located at the Dunlap Institute, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Chicago, the Lowell Observatory, NASA Ames, the American Museum of Natural History, University of Arizona and the University of California at San Diego and at Santa Cruz also contribute to the survey. The GPI Exoplanet Survey is supported by the NASA Origins Program NNX14AG80, the NSF AAG pro-gram, and grants from other institutions including the University of California Office of the President. Dropbox Inc. has generously provided storage space for the entire survey’s archive.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 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.

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    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
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    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
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    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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