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Revolutionary Instrument Delivers a Sharper Universe to Astronomers

July 3, 2013


Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
(Background images Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA)- Downloads are for the Gemini image only
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Orion Bullets: The "Bullets" region of the Orion Nebula has a long history of adaptive optics (AO) imaging at Gemini. A smaller section of the field shown here was first targeted with the Altair adaptive optics system at Gemini North in 2007 (see: www.gemini.edu/node/226), followed by this much larger-field imaging sequence with the Gemini Multi-conjugate adaptive optics System (GeMS) at Gemini South. This near-infrared image (right), is comprised of three, 3-band pointings using GeMS with the Gemini South AO Imager (GSAOI); Note that a single GeMS pointing from this series was released at the January 2013 meeting of the Astronomical Society, see www.gemini.edu/node/11925). Comparative Hubble Space Telescope (optical) views are shown (left) surrounding the new Gemini image for perspective and comparison.

In the GeMS/GSAOI image, strong winds from violent explosions associated with a region of star birth behind the Orion Nebula expel bullets of gas that created this spectacular system of molecular hydrogen wakes. Researchers and Principal Investigators John Bally and Adam Ginsberg of the University of Colorado are using their GeMS data to determine the intensity of the blast and the nature of the bullets. “Are they dense fragments of circumstellar disks? Could they be ejected protoplanets? Or are they portions of the prestellar core from which massive stars form?” Bally asks. “The Sub-arcsecond resolution provided by GeMS is needed to resolve these shocks and to search for the compact, high-density knots responsible for these wakes.”

Technical Data: Image, made from FeII, H2, and K-2.2 microns filters, were assigned the colors blue, orange, and white, respectively. The field-of-view is 2.9 x 3.8 arcminutes and is oriented with north up. The total (integrated) exposure time was 30 minutes cumulative for all filters and fields.

Image data from John Bally and Adam Ginsberg, University of Colorado. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
(Background image Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA) - Downloads are for the Gemini image only
Full Resolution TIF (50.8MB) | Full Resolution JPG (28MB) | Med Resolution JPG (2.1MB)

NGC 4038: This multiple pointing, 3-band, near-infrared image (right), obtained with GeMS/GSAOI reveals remarkable, colorful details in NGC 4038, one of the components of the Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/NGC 4039), despite a short total exposure time. The image to left shows a larger HST optical image with the Gemini GeMS image inset for scale and comparison.

The Antennae Galaxies are probably the most recognized pair of interacting disk galaxies in the sky. The popular name comes from the resemblance of their tidal tails to the antennae of an insect, as seen in the wide-field images. The starburst system, only about 10.5 million light-years distant, harbors a rich population of massive young clusters, whose formation has been triggered by the interaction. Considered to be globular cluster progenitors, these objects are resolved in remarkable clarity in the GeMS image of NGC 4038.

“The exquisite data provided by GeMS/GSAOI allows us to differentiate compact star clusters from individual stars, study their integrated-light properties, and set constraints on the underlying stellar populations,” says Gemini South staff astronomer Rodrigo Carrasco who suggested this target for the System Verification process. “This gives us the ability to extend the study of the star clusters in interacting galaxies to much fainter brightnesses and with greater sharpness. The Antennae illustrate the possible future of our Milky Way when it collides with the Andromeda galaxy billions of years from now.”

Technical Data: The image, made from J, H, and Ks filters, were assigned the colors blue, green, and red, respectively. The field-of-view is 1.6 x 1.4 arcminutes and is oriented with north to the right. The total (integrated) exposure time was 5.5 minutes cumulative for all filters.

Image data from Rodrigo Carrasco, GeMS System Verification Team, Gemini Observatory. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
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NGC 1851: A single pointing, 2-band, near-infrared image, obtained with Gemini South’s GeMS/GSAOI of the globular star cluster NGC 1851.

NGC 1851 is an ancient globular star cluster some 40,000 light-years from our Sun. All globular star clusters have a very high density of stars. “Peering deep into them to look at the faintest stars requires high spatial resolution. It’s essential,” says Principal Investigator Alan McConnachie of Canada’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (formerly the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics), who wants to obtain a better understanding of the cluster’s stellar population –– particularly of its age, any evidence for multiple stellar populations, and the distribution of low mass stars. “We want to push the capabilities of GeMS to the limit so that we can determine the internal dynamics of globular clusters and understand how best to use MCAO for precision astrometry and photometry,” he says. “After all, MCAO is a key capability for the future of ground-based astronomy through its use in the Thirty Meter Telescope, and GeMS is allowing us to peek into that future and get a head-start!”

Technical Data: The image, made from J and Ks filters, were assigned the colors blue and orange, respectively. The field-of-view is 0.9 x 0.9 arcminutes and is oriented with north up. The total (integrated) exposure time was about 123 minutes cumulative for all filters.

Image data from Alan McConnachie, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
Full Resolution TIF (38.8MB) | Full Resolution JPG (19.9MB) | Med Resolution JPG (1.4MB)

R 136: A single pointing, 3-band, near-infrared image, obtained with Gemini South’s GeMS/GSAOI of the star cluster and associate nebula R 136.

Despite years of study with the largest telescopes and best instruments, the nature of star cluster centers is not well understood. The best data to date from the Hubble Space Telescope on R 136, a local analog to starburst clusters in distant galaxies, are still incomplete. The crowded fields make it difficult to count all the stars in the core due to the extensive overlapping of stars. With GeMS, astronomers can now resolve most of R 136’s core down to one or two solar masses and determine if stars less massive than this prevail. “Having a wide field-of-view with uniform image quality makes such investigations easier and more accurate than could be done before,” says National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Deputy Director, researcher, and Principal Investigator Robert Blum. “Using GeMS, we can obtain the very best description of the stellar content of R 136 ever. Not until the next generation of large ground based telescopes are built will we be able to do better.”

Technical Data: The image, made from J, H, and Ks filters, were assigned the colors blue, green, and red, respectively. The field-of-view is 1.5 x 1.5 arcminutes and is oriented with north up. The total (integrated) exposure time was 60 minutes cumulative for all filters.

Image data from Robert Blum, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
Full Resolution TIF (38.8MB) | Full Resolution JPG (20.8MB) | Med Resolution JPG (1.4MB)

RCW 41: A single pointing, 3-band, near-infrared image, obtained with Gemini South’s GeMS/GSAOI of the star cluster and associate nebula RCW 41.

RCW 41 is a star-forming region harboring a massive star cluster surrounded by dust and gas. It lies in the Vela Molecular Ridge –– itself a vast star-forming complex in the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. By using the near-infrared capabilities of GeMS to probe deep into the obscuring dust that pervades this region, astronomers can study the physical processes acting on this complex environment. Principal Investigator Henri Michel Pierre Plana of Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz in Brazil says, “With its high resolution of 0.13 arcsecond and high sensitivity in the near-infrared, GeMS/GSAOI turned out to be the ideal tool to study the distribution of the initial masses of stars in this young cluster, which can tell us much about their properties and how they evolve.”

Technical Data: The image, made from J, H, and K filters, were assigned the colors blue, green, and red, respectively. The field-of-view is 1.2 x 1.5 arcminutes and is oriented with north up. The total (integrated) exposure time was 34 minutes cumulative for all filters.

Image data from Henri Michel Pierre Plana, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Brazil. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
Full Resolution TIF (113MB) | Full Resolution JPG (25.7MB) | Med Resolution JPG (3.5MB)

NGC 2346: A single pointing, near-infrared image, obtained with Gemini South’s GeMS/GSAOI of the planetary nebula NGC 2346.

Planetary nebulae are the gaseous remnants of low- and intermediate-mass stars. Evolved planetary nebulae, such as NGC 2346 (shown here), contain a variety of complex and poorly understood filamentary and clumpy structures. Principal Investigator Letizia Stanghellini of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and colleagues utilized the high-resolution capability of GeMS to detect these features at scales that would reveal the physical processes leading to their formation. “From the observation point of view,” Stanghellini says, “such an analysis is possible only with the resolution afforded by GeMS/GSAOI. The data will enable us to explore the nature and evolution of planetary nebulae microstructure, and to study the molecular formation and destruction processes in great detail. This will greatly advance our understanding of chemical recycling in our Galaxy and other stellar systems.”

Technical Data: The image, made from H2(2-1), Brackett gamma, and H2(1-0) filters were assigned the colors blue, green, and red, respectively. The field-of-view is 1.4 x 1.4 arcminutes and is oriented with north to the left. The total (integrated) exposure time was 70 minutes cumulative for all filters.

Image data from Letizia Stanghellini, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona. Color composite image by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
Full Resolution TIF (24.4MB) | Full Resolution JPG (10.3MB) | Med Resolution JPG (1MB)

Abell 780: This is a rich cluster of galaxies 840 million light-years distant. Better known as Hydra A, Abell 780 has been thoroughly studied at X-ray wavelengths, but its fine-scale structure has largely remained a mystery to astronomers at optical wavelengths. Recent studies, however, show the cluster to have a gravitationally bound structure of 27 galaxies, and a more strongly gravitationally bound structure of 14 galaxies. This GeMS/GSAOI image shows the cluster”s core in unprecedented detail.

“Our goal was to explore the structure of these galaxies at sub-kiloparsec scales,” says Rodrigo Carrasco, GeMS System Verification Team, Gemini Observatory. “This will allow us to compare the structure of these galaxies with similar objects found in the early universe.” The team selected Abell 780 because not only is it nearby but its center is dominated by a very powerful radio galaxy, known as Hydra A (also 3C 218), which has a prominent radio jet normally not detected in optical images.

“Thanks to the exquisite resolution (sharpness) provided by GeMS and GSAOI,” Carrasco says, “we can see some features of the jet, including at least two knots in the infrared, which are not visible in the optical images at similar resolution taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.”

The image also shows a number of globular star clusters surrounding this main galaxy. Such details are not seen in images that don¹t use adaptive optics. “We can see also several galaxies in the field that have compact morphologies,” Carrasco says, “and with details that normally are seen only from space.”

Technical Data: The image, made from a Ks filter has a field-of-view of 1.4 x 1.4 arcminutes and is oriented with north up. The total exposure time was 70 minutes.

Image data from Rodrigo Carrasco, GeMS System Verification Team, Gemini Observatory. Image produced by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA - Image taken by Manuel Paredes
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Gemini South telescope during laser operations with GeMS/GSAOI...

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA - Image taken by Manuel Paredes
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Gemini South telescope during laser operations with GeMS/GSAOI...