After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds. The instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), was designed, built, and optimized for imaging giant planets next to bright stars, in addition to studying dusty disks around young stars. It is the most advanced instrument of its kind to be deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes, the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.
This image taken by the GPI shows a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. In addition to the image, the GPI obtains spectral information from every pixel element in the field of view, allowing scientists to study the planet in great detail.
Beta Pictoris b is a giant planet, several times larger than Jupiter. It is very young, perhaps only ten million years old. This near-infrared image show the planet glowing from the heat released in its formation. The bright star Beta Pictoris is hidden behind a mask in the center of the image; a few scattered starlight artifacts, called speckles, are also visible but vastly fewer than in previous images.
Image credit: Gemini / Christian Marois, NRC Canada.