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Gemini e-Newscast #98

August 10, 2017

In This e-Newscast:

A New Class of Variable Stars

Astronomers using the Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) on the Gemini South telescope have confirmed a new class of variable stars called Blue Large-Amplitude Pulsators (BLAPs). Pawel Pietrukowicz (Warsaw University Observatory, Poland) led the study as part of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), a variability sky survey conducted on the 1.3-meter Warsaw Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. For more details see the Gemini webfeature.
Gemini South spectra for three BLAPs. Best fits of stellar atmosphere models are shown with red lines. Effective temperatures, surface gravities, and helium abundances derived for these stars are similar to the values obtained from spectra for the prototype object previously studied. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF

Announcing Gemini’s New Chief Scientist John Blakeslee

In October John Blakeslee begins his duties as Gemini’s new Chief Scientist. John comes to Gemini from the National Research Council’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, in Victoria, BC, where he has served as an Astronomer and Senior Research Officer for the past 10 years. John earned his PhD from MIT in 1997, and is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Victoria. John has worked on a varied array of research topics, including galaxy structure and evolution, supermassive black holes, the extragalactic distance scale, large-scale structure, globular cluster populations, and data analysis pipelines.
John is very familiar with Gemini, and for the past several years has worked in Canada’s National Gemini Office. In his capacity as Chief Scientist, John will be instrumental in setting and implementing Gemini’s scientific goals and directions while working closely with our international user community from the Gemini South Base Facility in La Serena, Chile. John adds, “I’m excited about working with Gemini’s superb staff to achieve the best science with our twin telescopes. I’m especially looking forward to the upcoming instruments and upgrades that will make Gemini an even more powerful, efficient, and flexible facility for studying everything from near-Earth asteroids to cosmic dawn.” Gemini’s Interim Director Laura Ferrarese adds, “The remarkable breadth of John’s scientific interests make him ideally suited to lead Gemini’s vision into the next decade. We are all looking forward to welcoming him at Gemini and working together to further enhance the role our Observatory will play in the years to come.”

OCTOCAM Conceptual Design Review Completed

In early August, Gemini hosted a successful Conceptual Design Review for the OCTOCAM instrument. OCTOCAM will be an 8-channel optical to infrared imager and spectrograph with rapid response and high time-resolution capability, planned for Gemini South in 2023. The Gemini staff and the external review committee congratulated the team for its performance during the Conceptual Design Stage and offered additional suggestions to further support the team and the OCTOCAM instrument. Although the final review report is not yet complete, we expect the team to continue to the next design stage quickly, with a planned stage kickoff meeting in September, held in San Antonio Texas, home of the primary contractor, the Southwest Research Institute.
OCTOCAM Conceptual Design Review team and staff take a break for a group photo! Photo by Joy Pollard.

Help Gemini Upgrade Instruments to Better Serve You

Gemini is committed to maintaining the competitiveness of our instrumentation and serving the needs of our user community. Every year since 2015 we ask our user community to send us instrument upgrade proposals. This year Gemini welcomes proposals for a total budget up to $600,000 USD for upgrading any of our facility instruments. In addition, Gemini offers a state-of-the-art near-infrared Hawaii-4RG detector, plus its controller electronics, for use in an instrument upgrade. The request for proposals starts on July 24th, letters of intent are due on September 14th, and proposals are due on October 5th. We expect to begin one or more of these instrument upgrade projects in the first quarter of 2018.  For further updates please  visit the Instrument Upgrade Program webpage.

Gemini IRAF, Astroconda, and GMOS-N Hamamatsu

A new version of the Gemini IRAF package (v1.14) is now available. The main highlight of this release is the support for the new GMOS-N Hamamatsu CCDs. The GMOS team has been occupied with characterization of the new detectors in the months since their installation. That work is now fully integrated into the Gemini IRAF software and ready for science data reduction. The software is fully backward compatible with the previous CCD configurations as well.

Another notable highlight of this release is that this is the first new release that we are distributing through Astroconda. As announced in the June 15th edition of this e-newscast, we have replaced our distribution and installation system with Anaconda and Astroconda. While this release of Gemini IRAF will still work with Ureka, we encourage Ureka users to switch to Astroconda at their earliest convenience.

Readers are invited to check the webpage for details on this release and for installation instructions.

Gemini South Hosts Gemini Users Committee

The annual meeting of the Users Committee for Gemini converged at the Gemini South Base Facility between August 8-9. Each year this meeting brings together a broad cross-section of our user community to advise and make recommendations on issues relevant to our user community.
Meeting of the 2017 Users Committee for Gemini at the Gemini South Base Facility in early August.

2018 Gemini Science Meeting Takes Shape

The 2018 iteration of the Gemini Science Meeting (held every three years) is rapidly taking shape. As this e-newscast goes to e-press we have committed to a month and location: July, in California’s bay area! Stay tuned for more details in the September edition of this e-newscast.


Gemini Visiting Instrument Program: What’s new for 2018A?

Gemini has a very active Visiting Instruments Program, encouraging teams large and small to bring their own instruments for use on the Gemini telescopes. These instruments are frequently made available to the community as well, with the generous support of the instrument teams. In any given semester, you can look at the call for proposals and see what exciting capabilities may be offered for a limited time using these Visiting Instruments.

For 2018A, the Visiting Instruments available at Gemini South will be:
  • IGRINS: The Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrometer is a high-resolution (R~45,000), single-setting, 1.45-2.5 micron echelle spectrometer, built in a partnership between the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute and the University of Texas at Austin. IGRINS will be available for observing in the second half of the semester.
  • DSSI: The Differential Speckle Survey Instrument provides diffraction-limited optical imaging (FWHM~0.02" at 650nm) of targets as faint as V~16-17 in 2 channels over a ~2.8 - 5.6 arcsecond field-of-view. You can propose to use this popular visiting instrument which will be available during the first half of semester 2018A.
The Visiting Instruments at Gemini North in 2018A will be:
  • ‘Alopeke: The newest addition to the DSSI family, ‘Alopeke (Hawaiian for fox) will have a larger format than previous versions, and feature high time resolution photometry over a 30-arcsecond field with modern EMCCD cameras as well as speckle imaging.
  • TEXES: Another frequent visitor, the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph is a high resolution (R ~ 4,000-100,000) mid-infrared (4.5-25 micron) spectrometer. This instrument will most likely be available toward the end of June.
  • POLISH2: This high sensitivity optical polarimeter has been used extensively at Lick Observatory and is now coming to Gemini North. Rather than waveplates, POLISH2 makes use of two photoelastic modulators (PEMs) to achieve extremely high precision.
Don’t miss your chance to use these exciting instruments while they are on Gemini in 2018!  More information about these visiting instruments can be found in the 2018A call for proposals.

For questions about bringing an instrument to Gemini, or more information about the Visiting Instrument Program, email

Gemini North Telescope Scheduled Shutdown

The Gemini North telescope began a scheduled shutdown on July 10, 2017 for repairs and maintenance. Work is now ongoing to upgrade the shutter drive system, as well as to perform maintenance on the Acquisition and Guidance (A&G) system and other instruments as well. The shutdown tasks are progressing smoothly and Gemini North is expected to be back on the sky by August 25, as originally planned.
Steve Hardash (left), Cooper Nakayama (above, right) and JR Agno (center, below) guide the removal of a top shutter chain from Gemini North’s dome. Photo by Joy Pollard

Gemini Akamai Interns Present at Symposium

Gemini North hosted three Akamai Workforce Initiative (Akamai) interns this summer. The interns, Elton Nakagawa, Heather Situ, and Dallas Tada, worked with mentors Chris Stark, Chas Cavedoni, and André-Nicolas Chené, respectively. Elton developed a Mobile Device Management solution to securely manage the iOS devices located in each of the Zoom video conferencing rooms, Heather designed a holder for anodized aluminum spectroscopy slit masks, and Dallas created a public database of star clusters from the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey. Dallas will continue working with André-Nicolas this fall in order to maintain and improve the database. The student’s seven-week internship culminated in a symposium at Subaru Telescope, where the Hilo cohort of Akamai interns presented summaries of their projects. We wish our interns the best in all of their future endeavors!
Dallas Tada, Elton Nakagawa, and Heather Situ (left to right) present summaries of their work at Gemini as Akamai interns.
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