Get to Know Gemini! – Markus Kissler-Patig

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.


Name: Markus Kissler-Patig

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Director – who acts for all of Gemini (North and South)

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

The Director has internal and external duties. Externally, I work with the partner countries, represented by the Gemini Board of Directors, on the general scientific strategy and the budget. Internally, I provide the necessary leadership to ensure smooth operations of the observatory, as well as encouraging ideas that will improve it.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

A little over 4 years now.

What drew you to this job?

The international character of Gemini and the challenge to run an observatory split over two continents.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with a wide diversity of fantastic people.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Jurassic park (the real one, not the movie) at the boarder of France and Switzerland.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Human nature

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy answers some of the most profound questions that humans have and that make them what they are.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

My PhD thesis delt with investigating extragalactic star clusters as the skeleton of galaxies, providing clues to their formation and evolution. As some of the oldest objects in the universe, globular clusters revealed a number of constraints on the whereabouts of their host galaxies.

What are your current research interests?

Intermediate-mass black holes, and super-massive black hole evolution; and atmospheres of exoplanets in the context of astrobiology (that I teach at the University of Hawaii and University of Munich).

What is your favorite movie?

No favorite, but among my favorites are the movies of Aki Kaurismäki (top: La vie de Bohème) and Wim Wenders (top: Der Himmel über Berlin), as well as Jim Jarmush’s movies (top: Mystery Train)

What is the latest book you have read?

“Retour a Reims” by sociologist Didier Eribon – an autobiographic essay about the life-long impact that the social class in which we grew up in, as well as our sexual orientation have on our lives.

In parallel I am currently reading “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean Carroll – a great summary of the current state of Evolutionary-Developmental biological research

What is one hobby of yours?


Favorite beverage?

… depends on the circumstance, but generally plain water.

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Gemini Featured in Fall 2016 SVC Bulletin

Gemini Featured in Fall 2016 SVC Bulletin

In the most recent Society of Vaccum Coaters (SVC) Bulletin, they feature an article written by Gemini North Optical Engineer Thomas Schneider as well as an image of the Gemini North telescope on the cover. SVC is the global source for learning, applying and advancing vaccum coating, surface engineering and related technologies.

Cover of the SVC Bulletin, featuring the Gemini North telescope.

Cover of the SVC Bulletin, featuring the Gemini North telescope.

The article, titled “Coating the Gemini Telescopes with Protected Silver,” is an in-depth article about how and why Gemini Observatory chooses to coat its mirrors with silver (and was in fact the first 8-meter class telescope to do so in 2004!) instead of the more popular aluminum.

“The coating quality is integral to our success at the Gemini Observatory,” says Schneider. “Our four-layer protected coating provides high reflectivity in visible and infrared wavelengths as well as low infrared emissivity. The durability of our coating has also increase the usable lifetime between re-coatings to five years or more.”

Coating the Gemini Telescopes with Protected Silver.

Thomas Schneider and Tomislav Vucina inspecting the primary mirror for pinholes after the Gemini North recoating. Photo credit: Jeff Donahue.

Watch the video above to see a time lapse of the Gemini mirror re-coating process.

What’s that Glow?



What’s that Glow?

Cerro Pachón is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observations due the darkness of the night sky. However, sometimes there is a strange brightness of different colors throughout the entire sky known as airglow.

Airglow is caused by the ultraviolet light from the Sun that constantly hits the molecules in the atmosphere. Molecular oxygen (O2) splits into individual atoms during the day, and go through complex chemical reactions after sunset. Atomic oxygen (O) cannot efficiently recombine into O2, so at night it and other elements take part in further reactions causing them to emit light through a process known as chemiluminescence (Roach & Gordon 1973; Komich et al. 2008; Noll et al. 2012, 2015a, 2015b). The result of these interactions is a visible glow in the night sky, with colors varying from green to red, which can be caught by sensitive single lens reflex (SLR) cameras. 

Ricardo Demarco,  faculty Astronomer at Universidad de Concepción, recently captured this astonishing atmospheric phenomenon during his observing run at the Gemini South telescope. Demarco was collecting data using the Gemini Large and Long Program (LLP) for the GOGREEN project.

Airglow Through the Night

The event occurred throughout the night on October 26 at the Cerro Pachón site. The airglow was recorded using a Nikon D7000, with an 8mm “fisheye” lens. The unusual but very prominent reddish light emission is called airglow as shown in Animation 1.

Animation 1. Ricardo Demarco animation taken on the night of October 26, 2016.

Above is a timelapse movie made up by stacking images taken every 60 seconds. The camera setup is: 8mm lens attached to a Nikon D7000 camera, ISO 6400 and exposure time of 30 seconds. No filter was used, so the airglow emission has not been enhanced in any form.

In the video, the Milky Way is setting above the horizon, while the Zodiacal Light appears as a faint, diffuse column of light in the sky, just above the horizon and extending towards the zenith for a short period of time after the sky gets dark. Suddenly, the atmosphere changes brightness and color, and a reddish airglow appears just above the horizon (at 16 seconds), disappearing shortly thereafter. Later (at 23 seconds) the red airglow rises again until the end of the night.

Animation 2. All-sky animation taken on the night of October 25, 2016.

The airglow was also recorded by the Gemini all-sky camera installed on the summit of Cerro Pachón, as part of the Base Facility Observation project, which currently allows astronomers to operate the huge telescope of Gemini South from the base facilities located in La Serena.

Animation 2 is produced by stacking several images taken every 60 seconds using an all-sky camera. Here, it shows how the airglow appears to be propagating like ripples on a calm lake. The propagating air-pressure flow probably originated from the Pacific Ocean (in the lower atmosphere) and then rose to high altitude where the Andes mountains are located. An interesting hydrodynamic effect can be seen when the amplitude of the propagating air flows changes while moving over the mountains. Note the cardinal reference on the all-sky camera video. Air flows come from the Northeast, then sweeps away all the airflow passing above Pachón site to the Andes mountains, located in Southeast direction, as shown in Animation 2.

This light phenomenon was also recorded using the cloud cameras installed over the Gemini facilities roof covering the North, Northeast, West, and Southwest directions, respectively. These timelapses were created using customized cameras that take images every 30 seconds. The airglow is very intense due to very low air pressure, as is the ripple effect due to conservation of wave energy and momentum, seen in the following videos:

North Cloud Camera


West Cloud Camera


NE Cloud Camera


SW Cloud Camera


Some links of interest:

 – The Zodiacal Light

The nature of the zodiacal light

Observations of the zodiacal light

The Airglow

The formation of airglow






Aunt Mimi’s Astro-Bash!


Come explore the mysteries of cold space at the Hilo Public Library when Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash rolls into town!

If you are a Big Island resident living in Hilo, Hawai’i, you may have seen these Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash posters up around town!

“Science, especially astronomy, is such an awesome and messy adventure,” said Mimi Fuchs, also known as Aunty Mimi. “It’s fun and wild, full of curiosity, it’s stimulating and at the same time it makes our lives better. I love that the Astro-Bash will give families a glimpse into this world. Everyone deserves educational experiences that excite them.”

The Astro-Bash is not your typical classroom lecture. Instead, it features hands-on explorations and an interactive live show about the extreme temperatures of outer-space. With the power of science at their fingertips, the Astro-Bash team can recreate these extreme environments right here in Hilo for you to discover.

“Mimi’s passion and energy is so refreshing,” says Sylvia Kowalski, an intern at Gemini Observatory and organizer of the Astro-Bash event. “Mimi is an accomplished astrophysicist, but she always brings her work down to Earth to empower learners with everything she has. I wish every project I worked on felt like Mimi was involved!”

Aunty Mimi, Miriam Fuchs, explores the wonders of cold here on Earth by safely handling frozen carbon dioxide, commonly called dry ice.

The Astro-Bash headliner is no stranger to creatively engaging learners in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. Currently, Mimi works as an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Submillimeter Array (SMA) on Maunakea. Prior to SMA, she held positions with the Franklin Institute and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) creating live science curriculum, portable science educational programing, science camp activities, and cultural astronomy resources. Her work aims to entertain, excite and empower all students. No matter your age or background, science at the Bash is guaranteed to be a blast!

Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash is a free, family event, suitable for all ages. The event is first-come, first-served and space is limited. Please contact the Hilo Public Library at (808) 933-8890 if a sign language interpreter or other accommodations are needed.

When: Wednesday, January 11th, from 4:30 – 6:30 pm

Where:Hilo Public Library, 300 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

What: Astro-Bash: Frozen Science Fun for the Whole Family

Who: Keiki and families of all ages. Hosted by Gemini Observatory, The Hilo Public Library and The Smithsonian Astrophysical Submillimeter Array (SMA)

Why: To explore, engage, create and celebrate science as community!

Aunty Mimi takes a break from her photo shoot to share a shaka with our readers.

Aunty Mimi’s Astro-Bash is a collaboration between Gemini Observatory, The Hilo Public Library and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Submillimeter Array and is part of Gemini’s year-long Journey Through the Universe program. Journey Through the Universe promotes sustained education in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and is a celebration of exploration and the joys of learning science and astronomy. In 2016, the program celebrated its twelfth anniversary on Hawai‘i Island and during this period has engaged over 50,000 students, visiting over 3,000 classrooms during Journey weeks. For more information on Journey Through the Universe, please visit our website.

Promoting Collaboration between Gemini and Korea


The group of astronomers finished the workshop with a visit to the Gemini South telescope located on Cerro Pachón. Photo courtesy of Seok-Jun Chang.

Around 60 scientists from all around the world, gathered in the joint Chile-Korea-Gemini workshop on “Accretion Processes
 in Symbiotic Stars and Related Objects“, on December 4-7 at Universidad de La Serena, in Chile.

In recent years, the Chilean and Korean astronomical communities have begun a path of collaboration that will bring them closer despite the great geographical distance between both countries. Therefore, astronomers based at both sides of the Pacific are fostering several official initiatives to improve partnerships in many aspects of astronomical research among different working groups.

During the inaugural workshop, participants discussed the process of accretion (the growth of a body by the aggregation of matter to smaller bodies) in symbiotic stars ( a system composed of two stars: a red giant and a small white dwarf star, which are surrounded by a nebula), with the aims of future joint projects in stellar astrophysics.

The workshop concluded with a visit to the Gemini-South Telescope, in Cerro Pachón, where participants interacted with the observatory staff to learn more about the engineering and technologies that go on “behind the scenes”.

The organization of this successful meeting was led by astronomers Rodolfo Angeloni (Gemini South) and Hee-Won Lee (Sejong University) and the event was funded by the Gemini Observatory and Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).