Get to Know Gemini! Lindsay Magill

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

Image credit: Jen Miller

Name:  Lindsay Magill

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Science Operations Specialist, Gemini South

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

I am involved in telescope operations. I have one or two night shifts a month when I act as the telescope operator or the staff observer. The rest of the time when I’m on day shift I spend checking data we’ve taken, making sure the instruments are prepped for the night crew, as well as working on longer term projects like upgrading software, maintaining documentation, and up until recently serving on the Time Allocation Committee.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Almost 6 years.

What drew you to this job?

While I was doing my PhD, I worked as a Student Support Astronomer for a year at the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma. As I was doing that I realised that I much preferred being part of telescope operations and observing more than I enjoyed writing papers, so this job seemed like an ideal fit.

What is the best part of your job?

Observing on a clear night, especially when we get to go up to the mountain to observe.

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

I was born in the US, and lived there during my early childhood before moving back to Northern Ireland when I was 11, which is where my parents are originally from.

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

How to get through an entire night without falling asleep!

Why is astronomy important?

I’m not really interested in astronomy because I think it’s important. I don’t think it is particularly, at least not the way medical research is. But it’s fascinating, and it’s beautiful, and occasionally you find out something that turns out to be important to other people, often by accident. But it isn’t *why* I’m interested in astronomy, I just think it’s really cool.

What is your favorite movie?

The Martian

What is the latest book you have read?

The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman.

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

Flood, by They Might be Giants; 40 Licks, by the Rolling Stones; Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on her Magical Ukulele

What is one hobby of yours?

I’m teaching myself to play electric guitar.

Favorite beverage?

A good strong Assam tea.

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

Get to Know Gemini! Erik Dennihy

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

Name:  Erik Dennihy

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am Science Fellow at Gemini South.

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

I support daily operations in a variety of roles including carrying out observations during the night, planning the nighttime observations during the day, and assisting users in setting up their observing programs throughout the day.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Just over six months.

What drew you to this job?

The flexibility. This position allows me to work with the observatory from every viewpoint imaginable, including the user, as 50 percent of my time is allocated for personal research.

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

I was born in New York but raised in Georgia. My family from New York claims I have a strong southern accent while my friends from Georgia love to point out my northern accent. I’m convinced they’re both wrong.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

For my thesis I collected new observations of the crushed of pieces of planets that get left behind after their host star dies. In order to collect the data, I spent a few years upgrading one the instruments at the SOAR telescope, adding a second camera with new capabilities. With this camera, we discovered new systems and observed them changing on timescales never before seen!

What are your current research interests?

My current research interest is to understand the spectral energy distributions of local luminous infrared galaxies, using data from Herschel, Spitzer, WISE, and IRAS.  Using these data we can construct the first-ever view of the infrared spectral energy distribution.  I am also interested in the nature of luminous infrared galaxies at high redshift, where they are many more times common than in the local universe.  I am currently using Keck MOSFIRE data to analyze the rest-frame optical spectra of luminous infrared galaxies at z~2.3.

What is the latest book you have read?

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but only because I’ve read it several times. It’s my go-to travel book.

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

Hospice by The Antlers, How Strange, Innocence by Explosions In The Sky, and Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse.

Favorite beverage?

Tropicalia IPA from Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens Georgia

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

Get to Know Gemini! Jason Chu

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

Photo copyright Jason K. Chu.

Name:  Jason Chu

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Gemini Science Fellow at Gemini North Observatory.

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

I am a part of both the GMOS-N and GRACES instrument support teams.  I have several responsibilities including checking and helping PIs design their Phase 2 observations, support ongoing projects to maintain and improve the performance of both instruments, and also to observe the nighttime queue programs.  The other half of my time I spend on conducting my own research on the brightest infrared galaxies in the universe.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

About 10 months.

What drew you to this job?

Being a part of a team in running a world class observatory, while also conducting my own research.

What is the best part of your job?

See above :).

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

I’m originally from Orange County, California (between Los Angeles and San Diego).

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

Communicating clearly.  This is important for both disseminating new research findings, as well as helping PIs as a contact scientist or working with others to run the observatory.

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy is the study of everything that isn’t on Earth, which covers a lot of things, but most importantly it is the study of how we and everything we know of came into existence.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

My dissertation focuses on understanding the nature of luminous infrared galaxies and their role in the overall picture of galaxy evolution, both in the local universe ( closer than 450 Mpc) as well as far away when the universe was only 3 billion years ago.

What are your current research interests?

My current research interest is to understand the spectral energy distributions of local luminous infrared galaxies, using data from Herschel, Spitzer, WISE, and IRAS.  Using these data we can construct the first-ever view of the infrared spectral energy distribution.  I am also interested in the nature of luminous infrared galaxies at high redshift, where they are many more times common than in the local universe.  I am currently using Keck MOSFIRE data to analyze the rest-frame optical spectra of luminous infrared galaxies at z~2.3.

What is your favorite movie?

Lots.  The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Gladiator, the Bourne trilogy

What is the latest book you have read?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

The Complete Mozart Piano Concertos, Complete Chopin Piano Works, God is an Astronaut (by self-titled)

What is one hobby of yours?

Photography (landscapes, astro-landscape, portraiture/weddings).

Favorite beverage?

Chai tea latte.

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

Weekly Mirror Cleaning

Dust, dirt, cinder, and other particulates on our  telescopes’ primary and secondary mirror surfaces can  significantly degrade their reflectivity and light scattering properties. To keep our 8.2-m primary mirrors  and 1.0-m secondary mirrors shiny and reflective between our recoating cycles (every few years we re-silver the top coat of our mirrors), we clean the mirror as  part of our weekly telescope maintenance.

This might be different from what you’re expecting. We’re not using soap and water or  isopropyl alcohol. We use carbon dioxide snow or dry ice instead.  The telescope is tipped over close to the horizon so the mirrors are nearly perpendicular to the ground. Using wands hooked up to liquid carbon dioxide kept under pressure, the day crew sprays the mirror. Once the liquid carbon dioxide leaves the nozzle it nearly instantly expands to become solid ice crystals. The these carbon dioxide ice crystals are typically on the order of the nozzle diameter (typically a few mm or smaller).

The crystals quickly sublimate (changing from solid to gas) when they hit the surface of the mirror. This impact and expansion blow off the dust and particles off the mirror’s surface.  Particulates on the mirror surface are carried away floating on top of the layer of gas created by the sublimating carbon dioxide ice particles.  This process in essence scrubs the mirror but is  gentle on the very thin silver coating we have on our mirror. They simply fall off, which is why w

Here’s a video captured  by Science Operations Specialist Christy Cunningham showing the Gemini Maunakea day crew cleaning the Gemini North mirror and spraying the carbon dioxide snow onto the 8.2-m primary mirror.

You can see how our next door neighbors at the Subaru Telescope perform their carbon dioxide snow mirror cleaning here.

Get to Know Gemini! Atsuko Nitta

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:  Atsuko Nitta

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Gemini North Head of Science Operations at Gemini North. I am also a “Scientist”.

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

Our job in science operations is to make sure we deliver the scientific data as the users requested so that they can make progress on the cutting edge research – which will help us better understand our Universe.  My role is to make sure the Gemini North Science Operation team are doing the right thing to make that happen and make sure the team has the resources to do their jobs well.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

12 years

What drew you to this job?

It is exciting to be at the forefront of science – to contribute new knowledge to human kind.  Observatory is where large number of people with various different background/skills come together for purpose of expanding our knowledge of the universe. I enjoy working with people with diverse background and I enjoy working  in a team to get exciting things get done/accomplished.

What is the best part of your job?

Being one of the first to learn about new discoveries. Seeing the team find solutions to difficult problems.  Because our team consists of people with different strengths, together, there is hardly any weakness. I think this is the strength of having intelligent diverse team and I am proud to be a part of it.

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

Tokyo, Japan.

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

To enjoy what you do both technically and socially i.e. if you don’t like working with people, then observatory is not a good place to be.

Why is astronomy important?

It is the field where we try to answer the fundamental question of our and our universe’s existence. Along the way, we also develop technologies that come handy.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

Seismological studies on a star to find out physics under extreme condition truly happens the way we think it does. Just like the geologists use earth quake to find out what the inside of the earth is like, I did seismological analysis on stars to find out what they look like inside.

What are your current research interests?

The relationship between mass and magnetic field of white dwarf stars. On the origin of the He atmosphere white dwarf stars.

What is your favorite movie?

Nauticaa of the valley of the wind

What is the latest book you have read?

I am currently reading “Principles”.

What is one hobby of yours?

Yoga

Favorite beverage?

Hot tea

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