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article imageGemini Planet Imager starts to search the cosmos

By Tim Sandle     Jan 19, 2014 in Science
Gemini, the world's most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets orbiting around other stars, is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.
For the past decade staff working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been building and optimization the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). The device will be used for high-contrast imaging to better study faint planets or dusty disks next to bright stars. Now, after a decade of development, construction and testing, the Gemini advanced telescope has started to produce its first-light images from space.
The GPI is a high contrast imaging instrument being built for the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. The instrument will achieve high contrast at small angular separations, allowing for the direct imaging and integral field spectroscopy of planets around nearby stars.
The main aim of the instrument is to look for exoplanets. An exoplanet, or extrasolar planet, is a planet outside the Solar System. It is hoped that Gemini will aid understanding how planetary systems form and develop.
As of 4 November 2013, the Kepler mission space telescope has detected 3,568 candidate planets. Around one in five Sun-like stars have an "Earth-sized" planet in the habitable zone, so the nearest would be expected to be within 12 light-years distance from Earth. The project surrounding Gemini aims to add to this tally.
Quoted by Lab Manager magazine, Bruce Macintosh of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said: "Even these early first-light images are almost a factor of 10 better than the previous generation of instruments. In one minute, we were seeing planets that used to take us an hour to detect."
More about Gemini Planet Imager, gemini, Cosmos, Galaxy
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