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 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
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.”
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 :/.