To follow up to Jason’s post, here’s a photo of our summit team today – much reduced in numbers here in person from a year ago, but this is just the tip of the GPI team iceberg, and we were joined online and via teleconference by at least a dozen other members of the team from California to Canada to Maryland to Australia. Not to mention all the tremendous contributions from so many team members to the hardware, software, target selection, and data analysis needed to bring this complex creature into reality.
And, without further ado, now that GPI is built, delivered, and commissioned… it’s time to let those mirrors dance!
One year ago, GPI saw its first starlight on the night of November 11-12, 2013. In the year since that, the GPI team has been very busy. We’ve detected our first exoplanet, had a series of commissioning runs, took the SPIE conference at Montreal by storm, and found a new friend. Tonight, the night of November 11-12, 2014, we are in the midst of starting what GPI was designed to do: discovering new exoplanets! To celebrate this exciting year for GPI, we tried to recreate this moment from first starlight:
Figure 1. The GPI commissioning team at the Gemini South control room assembles for the first night of commissioning on November 11, 2013. From left to right: Naru Sadakuni, Andrew Cardwell, Marshall Perrin, Stephen Goodsell, Fredrik Rantakyro, Bruce Macintosh, Jeff Chilcote, Dave Palmer, Dmitry Savransky, Sandrine Thomas, Les Saddlemyer, Jennifer Dunn, Ramon Galvez, Carlos Quiroz, Markus Hartung. Not shown, working from the La Serena Base Facility: Kayla Hardie, Pascale Hibon, Andrew Serio, and Cristian Urrutia.
Here’s our attempt:
Pascale, Eric, Dmitry, Bruce, and Andrew celebrating.
Marshall, Ariel, and TV-Jeff enjoying the moment.
The party this time around isn’t quite as packed. The observing crew is only half the size of our first light run. I think this shows we’ve made some significant strides in this last year. We’ve fixed a lot of problems and streamlined a lot of tasks so it doesn’t take as many people to observe with such a complicated instrument. However, arguably we have much more to be excited about. With GPI fully operational, we can now start discovering new worlds! Here’s to many more great years of GPI science!
The GPIES Exoplanet Survey has begun! But that’s a different post. For now, here are some photos of these great beautiful machines.
As we came up to the domes after dinner tonight, we had a visitor overhead, circling around and, well, soaring over the SOAR telescope right next door. Our local expert in Andean wildlife, Gemini instrument scientist Pascale Hibon, says this is a juvenile female condor, younger than three years because she’s not yet displaying any white adult feathers. We have decided she is named Henrietta.
The sun has just set, and we’re slewing towards the first target of the night… ¡Adelante!
I don’t normally post about food, but this was too good to pass up.
The food they serve at the cafeteria on the summit can sometimes be very interesting. For my breakfast (dinner for people that are awake during the day) today, I had rice with the little alphabet letters you find in alphabet soup commonly.
Even on a summit in Chile, you can’t escape alphabet pasta!
Naturally, the thing to do when served this is to spell GPI. The ‘P’ was particularily hard to find in my dinner.
GPI spelled with alphabet soup letters
Time for my second GPI observing run! And this one is especially exciting as this run will officially start the GPI Exoplanet Survey. Flying down to observe on GPI can be its own adventure though. The closest city to the Gemini South Telescope is La Serena. Coming from the Bay Area, it takes about a full day to get to La Serena, involving at least two layovers (e.g. Dallas and Santiago), and often it doesn’t go exactly at planned.
Flight path from San Francisco to La Serena. Over 10,000 km!
This time, our flight from Dallas to Santiago encountered a mechanical error and was delayed. Unfortunately, since this happened around midnight, this meant we would not fly out until the next morning. The airline had to book everyone in hotels for the night, and I’m not sure if it is because they were running low on hotel rooms, but we were booked into an extremely interesting hotel. It was a Andy Warhol themed hotel, filled with Warhol artwork and Warhol-esque furniture. The toiletries even had Warhol inspired designs (I kept one as a souvenir). Here’s a picture of the lobby, although this picture doesn’t quite do it justice.
Bruce capturing the experience of the Andy Warhol themed hotel in Dallas, Texas
Here’s another shot of the lobby with some of our fellow stranded passengers waiting to check in.
Lobby of the hotel with other stranded airline passengers looking for some rest.
This certainly was a memorable forced layover in Dallas. But now I’ve made it to the summit, it’s time to focus on finding some exoplanets!
This week was the fourth commissioning run for GPI and I was happy to be back at Gemini to help. When we arrived it was a little cloudy, but just as beautiful as I remembered.
This week predicted an unfavorable forecast; the first several nights battled cloud cover and high winds, which meant a lot of engineering tests and fewer opportunities to actually look at the sky. Clouds make for some really fantastic sunsets, though.
With a the storm rolling in last night with high winds we were unable to open the dome. We stayed over night with the hope of bright eyed astronomers that it would not snow and we would have clear skies for Saturday. In the morning we woke up to a winter wonderland.
Every so often our own planet reminds us to take a break from work and build a snow..thing.
During the snow storm on the 4th GPI commissioning the team builds a snow sculpture!
One of the walls of GPI-focused papers at #SPIEastro in Montreal on Monday June 23 (credit: M. Perrin)
It was an important week for the Gemini Planet Imager Consortium. Several of us met at SPIE Astro in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to present our work on GPI. Katie Morzinski wrote a blog post describing the GPI -focused events at the conference, so I will briefly give my perspective.
Arriving at Montreal by train. (credit: F. Marchis)
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Members of the GPI team recently attended the biennial SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation conference. This time it was in Montreal at the end of June, and you can check out #SPIEastro to find out more about the general topics covered at the conference.
Bruce professing at Jerome’s poster.
After the conference, the presenters write manuscripts on their work and these are published in the Proceedings of SPIE. Last night we had a GPI “paper splash” of SPIE pre-prints at the Astro-ph ArXiv. There are 18 of them — that’s a lot of work from the GPI team! Thanks to Quinn for posting.
Some news from Gemini Observatory,
Gemini Observatory has revealed the list of observing proposals scheduled in 2014B (the second half of 2014) that will use the GPI instrument. Those programs focused on the search for companions around nearby stars and also stars known to possess a disk and/or a planet by radial velocity. Other groups are using the quality of data provided by GPI to study planets already imaged with previous instruments, such as the HR8799 system and Beta Pic b. Their goal is the study the atmosphere of those planets and also to collect more astrometric positions to refine the orbit of the exoplanet.
Gemini South Telescope on the top of Cerro Pachon (credit: Marshall Perrin)
I recently returned from the third commissioning run for the Gemini Planet Imager. Up until now, I had never been observing. I had never even seen the Milky Way. And as far as firsts go, I hit the jackpot — my first observing run at Gemini South, commissioning GPI.
Up on the mountain for 6 days, sunset to sunrise we busily work to gather light from the sky into GPI. But everyone takes a few moments during the night to step outside and look at the sky with their own eyes — no one misses the opportunity.
I’ve always lived in a city where only a handful of stars are visible at best. While I was always fascinated with the universe (especially thanks to fantastic Hubble press releases) I guess astronomy never felt that accessible to an urbanite like me, for whatever reason. By some stroke of luck, this May I found myself surrounded by mountains and stars, sitting in the control room of a massive telescope filled with technologically impressive instruments and equally impressive brains grasping for answers from the sky. I am definitely fulfilling a childhood dream.
While taking data in the control room, the tone is mostly quiet concentration and focus. But when we get to see the 8-meter move, everyone watches in excitement and awe. Luckily, I hit record.
This has been one of the most interesting and exciting trips I’ve taken. I have an added appreciation for the Gemini Planet Imager and its operation after being on the front line. GPI is not only a platform for great science but an amazing resource and opportunity for the students that are part the commissioning workforce.
GPI: A scientific partnership between institutions from the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.