The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) was a revolutionary instrument designed to detect the faint light emanating from extrasolar planets. It combines advanced adaptive optics, starlight-blocking masks, precision optical elements, an infrared spectrograph, and sophisticated software to detect planets a million times fainter than their parent star. Led by Professor Bruce Macintosh, GPI had first light on the Gemini South telescope in Chile in 2013. For the next six years astronomers in the GPI collaboration and others used it to survey the environments of young stars. We also carefully modeled the performance of the instrument, including effects such as fast-moving turbulence in the jet stream or excessive heating of the Gemini primary mirror.
GPI is now being upgraded. The instrument will move to the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. The new instrument GPI will use a faster and more sensitive wavefront sensor to improve performance on both bright nearby stars and distant extremely young stars. New spectrograph modes will allow rapid searches for exoplanets and precise measurement of their atmospheres. The upgrade will also integrate the instrument better into the observatory for efficient operations. The upgrade will be carried out at University of Notre Dame and University of California San Diego, with Stanford scientists supporting the design and integration. First light is anticipated in late 2022 and GPI will then begin its next five-year mission.