Observing @ NTT

This week I traveled to the New Technology Telescope or the NTT located in La Silla a mountain range north of Santiago near the Atacama desert. We are here to continue our investigation into the fascinating field of brown dwarf variability. This is where we study the atmospheres of these Jupiter-sized (much more massive though) objects in the near-infrared wavelengths to look for evolving cloud features to try and get a glimpse into their inner workings. Praying for good weather :).

CoolStars 18 and more…

This has been an insane summer of travel. And it all started with CS18, one of the largest low mass stellar conferences on the planet. The timing of our BAM-I paper turned out to be highly optimal, with an invitation to come give a talk on the subject at one of the splinter sessions. I believe the talk went well and I left the meeting with a little more scientific credit than when I walked in with.

BAM-III preliminary results

From there I headed back to Tempe for a brief respite only to then head out to the Sagan Summer Workshop (url.ie/ua0n). The summer school focuses on different science topics each year related to exoplanet research, and this year they focused on direct imaging. Since this is directly related to my research I was admitted to the school. I have now attended two editions of this school, and both of them were excellent – this years speakers were all incredibly good and I did not find myself nodding off at any point. If interested you can watch my POP presentation at the following link – http://vimeopro.com/vcubeusa/caltech2014/page/4. Its in the Attendee POPs video starting from ~3:30.

From there I had the most relaxing portion of my summer where I went to Santa Cruz to be a TA for the AO Summer School. Enjoy the pics while I reminisce.

view of Santa Cruz
view of Santa Cruz

Ocean

Hiking through the Santa Cruz campus.
Hiking through the Santa Cruz campus.

GPI – up and running

As a member of the GPI team I have been working on the first light data for the past several months. The embargoed first light data has now been released and I wanted to share these images.

Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of Beta Pictoris b, a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The star, Beta Pictoris, is blocked in this image by a mask so its light doesn’t interfere with the light of the planet. In addition to the image, GPI obtains a spectrum from every pixel element in the field of view to allow scientists to study the planet in great detail. Image credit: Processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada.
Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of Beta Pictoris b, a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The star, Beta Pictoris, is blocked in this image by a mask so its light doesn’t interfere with the light of the planet. In addition to the image, GPI obtains a spectrum from every pixel element in the field of view to allow scientists to study the planet in great detail. Image credit: Processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada.
Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. The left image (1.9-2.1 microns) shows normal light, including both the dust ring and the residual light from the central star scattered by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere. The right image shows only polarized light. Leftover starlight is unpolarized and hence removed from this image. The light from the back edge of the disk is strongly polarized as it scatters towards us. Image credit: Processing by Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope Science Institute.
Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. The left image (1.9-2.1 microns) shows normal light, including both the dust ring and the residual light from the central star scattered by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere. The right image shows only polarized light. Leftover starlight is unpolarized and hence removed from this image. The light from the back edge of the disk is strongly polarized as it scatters towards us. Image credit: Processing by Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope Science Institute.
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.  Image credit: Processing by Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope  Science Institute and Franck Marchis SETI Institute
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. Image credit: Processing by Marshall Perrin, Space Telescope Science Institute and Franck Marchis SETI Institute

The incredible aspect of the Beta Pic data is that these images only took a minutes to capture compared to hours of data taken at other comparably large telescopes. Showing just how powerful GPI will be in searching for new planets and disks in the coming years. I am extremely excited to be a part of this team and assisting in the discovery of new exoplanets.

I end this post with this excellent quote from Bruce Macintosh, the PI of the GPI instrument – “Some day, there will be an instrument that will look a lot like GPI, on a telescope in space. And the images and spectra that will come out of that instrument will show a little blue dot that is another Earth.”

LBT run – Day 4

Here’s a beautiful image of sky, only it usually wouldn’t be beautiful for an astronomer

A beautiful but cloudy sunset at the LBT
A beautiful but cloudy sunset at the LBT
IMG_20131228_181035_463
AO loop closed. Nice round PSF :).

One would usually look at this view and try and figure out what research to do (i.e which movie on Netflix to watch :P). But I have been amazed with how robust the AO system has been, we’ve been regularly closing the loop in >3 arcsec seeing. And tonight we have closed the loop on a very bright star even in these conditions!!!

LBT run

Thought I’d have a bit of a picture blog entry. I was offered the opportunity to assist in observations with LMIRCAM which is a mid-IR camera on the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). Ends up, I was given the shift from the 25th to the 31st, days when none of the others wanted to be stuck observing. So here I am preparing to go observing only to get a cold the day before. But!!! I decided that neither a nascent cold, nor 3 ft of snow would keep me from fulfilling my observing duties and so without further ado, here are some pictures from Mt. Graham.

I actually regret not stopping to take pictures on the drive up the mountain. There was a fair bit of snow, and at one point the 4WD (monster truck!) got stuck in the snow/ice. I called for help, only to then spend 10 minutes backing to and fro to dislodge said truck. I wasn’t particularly happy about this procedure, since this game was being played at ~9000 ft and there was a bit of a drop on one side (mainly when going forward) and by this point the truck was not parallel but rather perpendicular to the road (wish I had thought of taking a photo). As the pictures show, there was a wonderful Christmas dinner awaiting me when I arrived and the first night went off fairly smoothly.

I am now on day 2 of 7, lets hope the weather stays clear and that we continue to get good data :).

Importance of science

There’s a great article on the importance of Astronomy at the following IAU website – Why is Astronomy Important? 

The fact is, that we live in a political climate where research funding (apart from defense spending) is questioned and looked at suspiciously. The canadian research agency recently announced that it will only fund relevant research i.e. apparently stuff with commercial value (read this great BAD Astronomy article on it).  

Articles detailing the specific value of a science can seem to some as trite and missing the bigger picture but as scientists it would be good to read what direct benefits our field has had for the wider populace. If nothing else to answer questions related to why the public should fund basic science. A common question I get asked both here in the US and when I travel home to India is, ‘You actually get paid to do this?’. As if studying astronomy and trying to answer some of our most fundamental questions is somehow an unworthy task :/.