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Gemini e-Newscast #123

September 19, 2019

In This e-Newscast:

In an unprecedented feat, an American research team discovered hidden secrets of an elusive exoplanet using the powerful new instrument named ʻAlopeke (a contemporary Hawaiian word for fox) at the Gemini North telescope on Maunakea in Hawaiʻi. The team observed exoplanet Kepler-13b as it passed in front of (transited) one of the stars in the Kepler-13AB binary star system some 2,000 light years distant. Prior to this attempt, the true nature of the exoplanet (and which star it orbits in the binary system) was a mystery. Click the link for the full release: http://www.gemini.edu/node/21236

TEXES Visiting Instrument Returns for Gemini North Telescope Run


Last week saw an unusual event at Gemini North — observers and the operator were actually present at the telescope instead of observing remotely from the Hilo base facility! The occasion was the beginning of a ten-night observing run for TEXES, the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph, an ultra-high resolution spectrograph operating in the thermal infrared at wavelengths from 5 microns to 25 microns. Seven programs using TEXES were awarded time in Semester 2019B. In order to maintain its internal optics and detector at a temperature of 4 degrees above absolute zero, this visiting instrument requires occasional refills and adjustments of both liquid helium and liquid nitrogen. Gemini North has been observing remotely since late 2015. However,because these adjustments must be made manually, the TEXES team and Gemini operators were required to be at the telescope facility (see photo below). Although observing got off to a slow start due to poor weather conditions, the forecast is more favorable for the remainder of the run. Data is expected to roll in throughout the rest of this week.
TEXES observing team from left to right: Tom Geballe (Gemini), John Lacy (University of Texas), Tommy Greathouse (Southwest Research Institute), Matt Richter (University of California Davis), Rohini Giles (Southwest Research Institute), Curtis Dewitt (NASA Ames), and Christy Cunningham (Gemini).

Maunakea Access & Gemini North Shutdown

On July 15th, the Maunakea Access Road was blocked by protestors seeking to prevent Thirty Meter Telescope construction equipment from moving to the Maunakea Astronomy Precinct. This quickly precipitated a protracted stoppage of all observing as observatories assessed the safety and reliability of access to the summit to be inconsistent with normal operations. By August 12th, we had received assurances of support from Law Enforcement and statements from the protestors of their intent to allow  access for staff of the existing observatories. Combined with some improvements made to the “spur road” (a short segment of the old Saddle Road and a portion of a lava field) via which we now have to access the mountain, we returned to work on the planned maintenance shutdown (excluding, as we indicated in the last newscast, coating of the primary mirror). The shutdown was completed on August 30th as planned, allowing a resumption of night-time observing and enabling the TEXES run as scheduled (see previous story). Access to the mountain remains intermittently compromised by conditions on the spur road in particular, but for now we are proceeding with operations.

Gemini South Shutdown

A successful annual shutdown at Gemini South ran from August 12th to August 27th. Accomplishments during this shutdown included replacement of the Cassegrain rotator encoder, exchange of the FLAMINGOS2 cold heads, repairs to helium lines, and maintenance of the Acquisition and Guidance Unit.

Assistant Engineer Mariah Birchard (left) and Senior Electronic Technician Alejandro Gutiérrez (right), perform maintenance on a module in the Acquisition and Guidance Unit during the Gemini South shutdown.
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