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Space Discovery With The Gemini Planet Imager

Get to know the Gemini Planet Imager and her latest Jupiter-like planet discovery

Roselle Jean Dancel
Space Discovery With The Gemini Planet Imager© 2018 Gemini Observatory

Astronomers have recently discovered a new planet that resembles a juvenile version of Jupiter.

It's amazing how a planet that's around a hundred lightyears away can be detected by a high-power device that's man-made. But before saying anything about this Jupiter-like exoplanet, let's get to know the power telescope that discovered it.Gemini Planet Imager header.jpg

The Gemini Planet Imager is a relatively new contrast-imaging instrument that was designed to detect and analyze young planets orbiting bright stars in space.

The Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, is a relatively new contrast-imaging instrument that was designed for detecting and analyzing young planets orbiting bright stars, in and out of our solar system. It resides within the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope located in Chile.

It's similar to the Kepler telescope, and uses adaptive optics to sharpen images and simultaneouly block out starlight. Any form of light that retains, or any bright spots left, are indicatory of a plausible planet. How does it exactly work?

This diagram shows that the device has several components, which includes a interferometer, integral field spectrograph, coronagraph and an adaptive optic system as a cherry on top.GPI diagram.jpg 

Generally, the advanced and high - power imaging system is made out of an interferometer, integral field spectrograph, coronagraphy and an adaptive optic system.

Generally, the interferometer is responsible for making precise measurements of of length of displacements through wave interferences. The spectrograph is the one that can detect companions 1/10 millionth as bright as hosts in angular separations.

The coronagraph is what blocks out any light, while the optic system helps in reducing errors through the uses of a MEMS deformable mirror. Errors can easily occur due to the motion of air found in the atmosphere, or the optics within the GPI.  

I know everything sounded complicated, and I bet it still doesn't make that much sense. To simplify things for you, the GPI basically tries to take out light to assess remaining bright spots.

That's the GPI for you!

Now, the device was able to detect a planet that has a similitude with our very own Jupiter. This planet, dubbed with the name 51 Eridani b (or 51 Eri b) was discovered to have twice the mass of our own Jupiter, and is around 20 million years old. It's also rich in methane, and has temperatures reaching 800 degrees (which is kind of low or cold for a planet). It's one of the youngest stars not far from our sun. 51 Eri b.jpg

According to James Graham, professor from UC Berkeley & Project Scientist for the GPI, "This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed the GPI."

So what if they made this discovery? What's the significance? Well, in knowing the structures of the solar system the 51 Eri b belongs to, it may uncover some facts regarding our own. They said that the 51 Eri b's solar system is reminiscent of ours. 

With that, there are a lot of possibilities scientists and astronomers are banking on unveiling. They will use this new knowledge, alongside the capabilities of the GPI to discover how neighboring planets form and how that's stretched out through the universe. 

Our universe is a vast expanding space that seems endless, and full of possibilities. With the GPI, hopefully, it's able to continue what it does best and give mankind more knowledge about the unknown.


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