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Gemini Planet Imager Project Kicks Off

Santa Cruz, California – June 15, 2006:   The Gemini Observatory has selected a team led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to build the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), which is an extreme adaptive optics coronagraph designed to image and characterize planets outside our own solar system.

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  The project will start on June 26, 2006. A kick-off meeting was held in Santa Cruz June 15–17 and was attended by about 50 GPI team members and a half-dozen Gemini staff.

The $22M Gemini Planet Imager instrument (formerly called the Extreme Adaptive Optics Coronagraph or ExAOC), is scheduled for deployment in late 2010 on the Gemini South telescope, and will enable Gemini observers to perform high contrast imaging close to nearby bright stars.

GPI aims to achieve contrast levels of 10–7 to 10–8, sufficient to detect warm self-luminous Jovian planets in the solar neighbourhood. Such direct detection is sensitive to planets inaccessible to current radial-velocity surveys and allows spectral characterization of the planets, shedding light on planet formation and the structure of other solar systems.

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GPI combines a 2000-actuator MEMS-based AO system, an apodized-pupil Lyot coronagraph, a precision infrared interferometer for real-time wavefront calibration at the nanometer level, and an infrared integral field spectrograph for detection and characterization of the target planets. GPI will be able to achieve Strehl ratios > 0.9 at 1.65 microns and to observe a broad sample of science targets with I band (800nm) magnitudes less than 8. In addition to planet detection, GPI will also be capable of polarimetric imaging of circumstellar dust disks, studies of evolved stars, and high-Strehl imaging spectroscopy of bright targets.

Under the initial guidance of the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), the GPI project is a collaboration of the following Institutes, led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

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  •  NRC-HIA: NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics
  •  JPL: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  •  UdeM: Université de Montréal
  •  INO: Institut National d’Optique
  •  UCLA’s Infrared Instrumentation Laboratory
  •  UCSC: University of California , Santa Cruz
  •  University of California, Berkeley
  •  AMNH: American Museum of Natural History
  •  UCO/Lick: University of California Observatories

The final assembly and test of GPI will be performed at the The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics, UC Santa Cruz, during 2009 and 2010. The LAO also performed several of the preliminary lab experiments that led to the successful proposal for the instrument. The project's Principal Investigator is Bruce Macintosh of the NSF Center for Adaptive Optics and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Additional Information — The MEMS Deformable Mirror:   
Boston Micromachines Corp. is developing a 4096-element MEMS deformable mirror as part of the Gemini Planet Imager project.  
A 4096-element MEMS DM, with a stroke of up to 4µm and a surface figure of 10nm r.m.s., is required for the GPI instrument. Although MEMS deformable mirrors with array sizes up to 32×32, a 4µm stroke, and 10nm r.m.s. surface quality have been demonstrated by Boston Micromachines, all three criteria have not been achieved on the same device. The development programme aims to extend the design, fabrication, and packaging processes used to successfully produce Boston Micromachines Corporation’s kilopixel and longstroke (12×12) MEMS DMs.  
In an experimental extreme adaptive optics testbed, a 1024-element MEMS deformable mirror (DM) was characterized to determine whether the technology is suitable for extrasolar planet detection. The testbed showed that the MEMS DM could be flattened to less than 1nm r.m.s. within controllable spatial frequencies over an aperture of 9.2mm with an average long-term stability of less than 0.18nm r.m.s. phase, thereby demonstrating that the MEMS DM is a feasible wavefront compensator for high-contrast imaging.  
The project is described in "A 4096-element micromirror for high-contrast astronomical imaging," SPIE Newsroom (2007).

Previous News:  
Gemini Observatory Board Goes Forward with Extreme Adaptive Optics Coronagraph, Aug 2005.

B. Macintosh, J.Graham, D. Palmer, R. Doyon, D. Gavel, J. Larkin, B. Oppenheimer, L. Saddlemyer, J.K. Wallace, B. Bauman, J. Evans, D. Erikson, K. Morzinski, D. Phillion, L. Poyneer, A. Sivaramakrishnan, R. Soummer, S. Thibault and J.-P. Veran, "The Gemini Planet Imager," Proc. SPIE 6272 (2006)
Full Press Release

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