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Gemini e-Newscast #130

April 17, 2020

In This e-Newscast:

COVID-19 Update

Given the ongoing coronavirus threat, US federal guidance, and policies issued by the Chilean Government, NSF's NOIRLab mountain and base facilities will remain closed through at least 30 April 2020. Until further notice, all staff are required to continue teleworking, and telescopes are not conducting science operations. As we plan ahead for our operational state in the weeks and months to come, we are continuously monitoring the virus threat level, federal guidance, and school closures.These measures are being taken out of precaution: no COVID-19 case has been confirmed at any of the NOIRLab-sites. Refer to this link for more details.

Windiest Quasar

Researchers using the Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea have detected the most energetic wind from any quasar ever measured. This outflow, which is travelling at nearly 13% of the speed of light, carries enough energy to dramatically impact star formation across an entire galaxy. The extragalactic tempest lay hidden in plain sight for 15 years before being unveiled by innovative computer modeling and new data from the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab, and other facilities. For the full story and press release, click here.

GHOST Update

It's not often we receive a new Facility Instrument at Gemini, so the arrival of three shipping containers of the Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST) components from our colleagues at the National Research Council’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (HAA) Research Centre is a rare and exciting milestone. Inside these containers are the GHOST optical bench, enclosure, electronics and miscellaneous pieces. The team will air ship the remaining (delicate optical and electronic) components when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, the GHOST containers will remain at the La Serena base facility, and the fiber positioner unit, already commissioned at Gemini South, will have to wait a little longer to deliver light to the GHOST spectrograph.  Getting these containers to AURA property during the COVID-19 crisis took a great deal of effort and strong teamwork by HAA, Gemini, and AURA.
Left: GHOST containers after arrival at the AURA Recinto in La Serena.  Right: Gemini staff member Jorge Parra inspecting the contents. Credit: Gabriel Perez

Gemini Website Renovations

As of April 10th, the gemini.edu website has been completely revamped! This is the first release of a phased roll-out project. Future phases will include, among other things, a reworking of the web experience to align with the upcoming NOIRLab site. 
 
The new structure of the site has been under development for several years. At the core of this effort is the transition from the old website, which was organized like a collection of references, to a website that is “user-centric.” Organizing in a manner that allows you to find your own things is one thing, but organizing so someone else will find what they are looking for is something else altogether! Over the years, Gemini has received constructive criticism from users about how difficult it is to use the website when working on a proposal, observation programs, or data reduction. Also, Gemini’s support staff gathered a long list of questions from users that could have been better supported by the documentation on the website. This is why it was decided to initiate a remodeling of the Gemini website.
 
The best way to know how someone wants anything is (obviously) to ask them. Gemini serves 400 PIs per year, and collecting an opinion from each one would be time-consuming and confusing. Luckily, this is a very well known problem with a series of state-of-the-art solutions, including usability testing to understand the audience, workshops with observatory staff to converge on the best strategies, and short questionnaires to test new elements of the site.
 
We will keep tweaking the content and graphic design of the site after the launch, and we expect our new maintenance plan to guarantee that the site will be useful and relevant for many years to come. We will continue to monitor the performance of the website, and publish our results at a future SPIE conference.

To report any issues please email André-Nicolas Chené.

IGRINS-2 Gets Underway

Although the Gemini telescopes are shut down right now, lots of work is still going on behind the scenes.  One exciting project that is just getting started is a new instrument called IGRINS-2, being constructed at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). This new Facility Instrument will be an updated version of the existing Immersion GRating INfrared Spectrometer (IGRINS) that is currently deployed as a Visiting Instrument at Gemini South.

Although we usually meet in person to kick off important engineering projects, we needed to find a new approach while our teams are unable to travel. So, at the end of March, the instrument development team at KASI met virtually with staff from both Gemini North and Gemini South in one large video conference. This meeting allowed us to get a start on the planning and design work for the upgrades that KASI will make to this unique instrument, which they hope to deliver to Gemini in 2023. We are looking forward to working with the team on this project, and on many more collaborations to come. While we are getting started on the new IGRINS-2 instrument, you can learn more about the existing IGRINS on Gemini South at this link, so that you can try it out when Gemini is once again open for science observations. For the Gemini User Community, the (infrared) future is looking bright!
Left: Drawing of the inner workings of the original IGRINS instrument, currently deployed on Gemini South.  Right: Members of the KASI and Gemini teams working together by videoconference to get the IGRINS-2 project started even while sheltering in place. (Credit: Chan Park, KASI)

Have You Met MAROON-X?

MAROON-X is the newest Visiting Instrument at Gemini North, and will be available to users for the first time in the coming 2020B semester.  This instrument was constructed at the University of Chicago, and is expected to have the capability to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of mid- to late-M dwarfs using the radial velocity method.  The core component of MAROON-X is a modified version of the KiwiSpec R4-100 spectrograph produced by KiwiStar Optics of New Zealand. The instrument was designed to deliver a resolving power of R~80,000 for a 100um wide pseudo-slit at f/10 with 3.5 pixel sampling across a wavelength range of 500-900nm spread over two camera arms.
Zemax rendition of the optical elements of MAROON-X and raytracing. The insert to the upper left shows the telecentric input relay optics that convert the f/5 fiber output (50um wide to the left in the insert) to the f/10 input accepted by the spectrograph (100um slit width).
While most Gemini instruments are attached directly to the Instrument Support Structure on the telescope, MAROON-X sits four levels below the telescope, in the Pier Lab.  We use a specialized device called the Front End Unit to interface to the telescope and to hold the optical fibers that send the light down to the spectrograph through a hole in the floor.  The main spectrograph optics, including echelle grating, primary and secondary collimators, input relay and dichroic beamsplitter are mounted on a stainless steel bench and held inside a vacuum chamber at < 10-5 mbar. The cross-disperser and camera optics, along with the detectors, are mounted outside of the vacuum chamber on a large optical table. The complete spectrograph is housed in an environmental enclosure within the Pier Lab that is kept at 10C within 10-20mK, shown here.
MAROON-X vacuum chamber with the main components of the echelle spectrograph on the optical table inside the environmental enclosure located in the Gemini North Pier Lab. (Credit: Andreas Seifahrt)

The GEMMA Podcast

In episode eight of the GEMMA podcast, GEMMA intern Odysseus Quarles introduces Brian Day’s Journey Through the Universe talk on the past, present, and future of NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration programs. Brian Day is the Lead for Citizen Science and Community Development at NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), and has worked on teams supporting multiple robotic missions to the Moon. Day is an expert on robotic and human exploration of the Solar System, two incredibly powerful messengers in the planetary astronomer’s toolkit. His talk, presented as part of Gemini Observatory’s Journey Through the Universe program, covers the history of NASA’s Lunar and Martian exploration programs, and the challenges and discoveries that await us in the next wave of human exploration in our Solar System. Click this link to listen.
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