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Gemini e-Newscast September 2020

In This e-Newscast:

Gemini South to Restart Operations

Gemini South and the other NOIRLab facilities in Chile have been closed since mid-March 2020 because of the continued pandemic and local restrictions. Based on a successful review of Gemini’s safety-focused operations plans and Chile’s improved conditions, initiation of Phase 1 limited operations is approved to start on 28 September. For Gemini South this means several weeks of maintenance and restarting systems, with an anticipated limited resumption of nighttime observing in the second half of October. Additional details on operations under COVID-19 are available in the Science Community FAQ linked to on the Gemini home page.

Hawai'i COVID-19 Update

Cases of COVID-19 began to spike on the island of Oahu at about the time of the last newscast, and Hawai‘i island itself quickly followed. Most of the recent cases have been in the Hilo area, and this has caused us to review our operations. Gemini North has continued nighttime operations and is now well into Semester 2020B without a pause so far. At the time of this writing, our night crew (of two people) are working in different wings of the Hilo Base Facility. In support of nighttime operations, we temporarily reduced our presence on the summit to two technicians daily and are reviewing the situation on a weekly basis.
Cumulative count of cases on Hawaii Island, from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A White Dwarf’s Surprise Planetary Companion

Artist’s impression of WD 1856b. In this illustration, WD 1856b, a giant planet, orbits its dim white dwarf star every day and a half. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
For the first time, an intact, giant exoplanet has been discovered orbiting close to a white dwarf star. This discovery shows that it is possible for Jupiter-sized planets to survive their star’s demise and settle into close orbits around the remaining stellar ember, near the habitable zone. This foretells one possible future for our own Solar System when the Sun ages into a white dwarf. Read the full press release here.

2021A Call for Proposals

Gemini Observatory invites our community to propose scientific investigations for the 2021A semester, 1 February 2021 – 31 July 2021. Proposal submission deadlines for 2021A are in late September or beginning of October, varying slightly with partner community. Please use this link for specific deadline dates and more details.

September Fast Turnaround Call for Gemini North

Gemini is keeping our user community busy every month! We are currently accepting Fast Turnaround (FT) proposals for Gemini North, and the next deadline is at 23:59 Hawai‘i Standard Time on 30 September 2020. This month you can apply for MAROON-X, our visiting instrument at Gemini North. Successful proposals from this cycle will stay active in the Queue from November 2020 until January 2021. The FT program has been used to conduct pilot studies, complete the observations for existing data sets, follow up newly discovered objects, and much more. Proposing teams are notified of the decisions typically within a few weeks of the deadline, and data for successful programs can be obtained as early as a week or two after that. For details, please see: http://www.gemini.edu/observing/phase-i/ft/ft-cfp

The monthly FT Call at Gemini South remains on hold until sometime after the restart of science operations in Chile. Updates will be provided on the FT News page.

Ground Layer Adaptive Optics Feasibility Study for Gemini North

Gemini started a ground layer adaptive optics feasibility study in April 2020. The team successfully identified a possible solution for the mounting of an adaptive secondary mirror system replacing the current secondary system and is currently working with vendors to explore further feasibility. With the help of the GNAO provided laser guide star facility, we can create four laser guide stars. We identified a possible location for four pickoff and fold mirrors in the mirror cell cavity that can project the guide star light on wavefront sensors located inside the mirror cell. Our initial analysis has confirmed that the ground layer adaptive optics system can improve seeing by a factor of two for all seeing limited instruments on the telescope within a science field of view up to 6 arcminutes in diameter. We plan to further investigate optical component solutions and operational requirements during the coming fiscal year and plan to issue a final report by August 2021. While we do not currently have funds fully identified to implement such a system at Gemini, completing this feasibility study is the first step in building the case to secure funding.

Join the MAROON-X ʻOhana (Family)

The latest MAROON-X run has just concluded, and was extremely successful both in terms of weather, and ease of observations.  Our preferred method of making the observations, of course, is to have the telescope operator and the instrument team all together in the control room. However, travel is not possible now and we worked with our technology teams to ensure that everyone could exchange information easily in real time, even though each person was in a different location. This was the first time that MAROON-X has been available to our user community, and we were impressed with the great science that our users proposed.

The team is working on data reduction now, and will be in contact with the investigators soon.  MAROON-X will be in the upcoming Call for Proposals, and is also available for Fast Turnaround, so this is a good time to think about what it can do for you. Users can find more information about the instrument here, and if you would like to become more involved with MAROON-X for your science, the instrument team at the University of Chicago maintains a mailing list and also hosts telecons for those who are interested in updates and coordinating projects with other teams. To take advantage of this great resource, contact the instrument PI Jacob Bean (jbean@astro.uchicago.edu).
Archive photo of MAROON-X team members Andreas Seifahrt and Julian Stuermer (center, wearing blue hard hats) working with staff at Gemini North (left to right: Cy Bagano, Eduardo Tapia, Harlan Uehara, Siyi Xu and Alison Peck) on the commissioning of the instrument.  We are looking forward to having them back in person! Photo by John White, Gemini/NOIRLab.
The start of MAROON-X remote observations on Sept 1, 2020.  Photo by Alison Peck, Gemini/NOIRLab
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