Get to Know Gemini! Christy Cunningham

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:  Christy Cunningham

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Science Operations Specialist (SOS) at Gemini North.

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

1. Operating the telescope at night which entails slewing the telescope, setting up on guide stars, and fixing any problems that occur with the telescope.
2. Observing at night which includes determining what programs in the Queue are suitable to run in the current conditions, checking real-time data, and logging events.
3. Daytime data checks of the previous nights data and daytime calibrations to prepare the telescope for the night.
4. Project time, for me this includes helping with the installation of the new Toptica laser system.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I have been at Gemini for over a year.

What drew you to this job?

Originally I left the operator position at SMA to go to get my masters at UO. I missed the night owl hours, the amazing hiking Hawaii has to offer, and my friends in the astronomy community so I decided to join Gemini.

What is the best part of your job?

My favorite part is the variety of work I get to perform week to week ranging from night to day, from base to summit, and operations to engineering.

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

I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska.

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

Communication. We have 10 different SOS members on the the team and it’s vital to know what is happening with the telescope and instruments between shifts and during the night between operations, science, and engineering staff.

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy provides answers for the age old questions of who we are, why we are here, and what else is out there. It also enhances the development of new technology within other fields of science.

What is your favorite movie?

My favorite movie is 500 days of summer.

What is the latest book you have read?

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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

I’m a rocker so the best of Albums for Blink-182, Slipknot, and Avenged Sevenfold.

What is one hobby of yours?

I’ve been fishing since I was a little girl and there’s nothing better than being on the boat or fly fishing for salmon!

Favorite beverage?

Sugar free redbull for the long nights running the telescope!

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! Alysha Shugart

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:  Alysha Shugart

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Science Operations Specialist at Gemini South telescope.

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

I spend my time at Gemini switching between night and day shifts. I operate the observing queue at nights, work with classical and remote astronomers, and try to get the best data possible for the PIs. During the days I do data quality analysis, instrument checks, and write scripts and modify software code for the observatory’s infrastructure. I also volunteer as a diversity advocate for the AURA centers in Chile, working to improve the workplace culture and create an environment where someone from any background can find a place.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I have been here for three years in September.

What is the best part of your job?

One of the coolest things about this job is living in Chile. I always wanted to move outside of the U.S., and Chile has so many outdoor adventures. Traveling around South America in my free time has been incredible these past three years.

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

 I was born in D.C., but I grew up and went to undergrad in Austin, Texas.

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

Problem solving.

Why is astronomy important?

To me, astronomy is the study of the history of everything. It’s the closest I can get to understanding existence (which is not close at all), and the grand scales of astronomy absolutely fascinate and astound me. It’s also very humbling.

What is your favorite movie?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

What is the latest book you have read?

“Travels with Charley” – John Steinbeck

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

“Soon it will be cold enough” – Emancipator, “Greatest Hits” – John Denver, “Napalm and Silly Putty” – George Carlin.

What is one hobby of yours?

Traveling with surfers

Favorite beverage?

Beer

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

Gemini Observatory Explores Makahiki with the Boy Scouts

Gemini Observatory Explores Makahiki with the Boy Scouts

The rising constellation Makaliʻi (also known as the Pleiades) at sunset marks the beginning of the Hawaiian new year, known as Makahiki. Makahiki is a period of peace, relaxation, and harvest, punctuated with celebrations and ceremony. This approximately four to five month period, aligning with the rainy season, is coming to a close as warmer weather ushers in the spring. Gemini Observatory celebrated the end of Makahiki season with the Boy Scouts of America on April 14th during the Ellison Onizuka Day of Exploration Scout Makahiki at the Edith Kanakaʻole Tennis Stadium in Hilo. The Ellison Onizuka Day of Exploration is a celebration of scouting and an adventure through the wide world of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The participating troops presented a wide range of STEM activities and workshops, from rocket launches and pinewood derby car races, to making glittery slime.

Public Information and Outreach staff were present at our Gemini Booth, sharing information about the diversity of careers at the observatories, passing out Legacy Images, and teaching about the different aspects of the telescope and the Universe beyond.

A Scout peers through a Galileoscope.

 

Public Information and Outreach intern Hannah Blomgren demonstrates how mirrors in the telescope can distort light, and how we use this to our advantage through adaptive optics.

Get to Know Gemini! Laure Catala

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:  Laure Catala

What is your current position and at which telescope?

AO (adaptive Optics) science fellow at Gemini North

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

ALTAIR is the AO system at Gemini North. The goal of an AO system is to improve the image quality delivered by the telescope by removing the aberrations caused by the atmosphere. As the AO fellow I am in charge of making sure that ALTAIR works properly. This involves keeping track of daily calibrations and faults that may occur during night observations in order to find, understand and solve the issue. In addition I am also working on longer term upgrades of ALTAIR in order to improve its performances.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I started at Gemini early December 2016, so I’ve been part of the team for a bit over a year.

What drew you to this job?

After a phd in atmospheric turbulence characterization and AO simulations I was looking for a postdoc that would allow me to put in practice my acquire knowledge in AO on a system currently running on a telescope and Gemini offered me this opportunity.

What is the best part of your job?

After theoretical work, getting my hands on a real system… which can also be the frustrating part as one cannot poke it as much as in simulation or in the lab since the system needs to be running every night. Though, it also makes things interesting on how to combine the research and development aspect with the constraints of a running facility instrument.

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

I grew up in the South-West of France, near Toulouse, fed on sun, amazing food, rugby and good wine

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

I’d probably say adaptability, creativity and ability to work in a team.

Why is astronomy important?

As any fundamental science, it provides for cutting edge technologies that wouldn’t be developed otherwise. Those will ultimately end up being used in everyday life devices (GPS, MRI, digital camera …etc). On a broader perspective, I believe it is inherent to human beings to push boundaries and try and grasp a better understanding of ourselves and our environment all the way to the big question of where did everything begin. Astronomy is one aspect of that fundamental search for more knowledge, which is also universally shared across time and cultures.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

One aspect of my thesis, which involved instrument development, was to characterize the atmospheric turbulence causing image distortion at the Sutherland Observatory (South Africa). I then used those measurements into simulations in order to assess the potential image quality improvement that an Adaptive Optics system could provide on the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT).

What are your current research interests?

My main research interests are related to AO systems. Those include, the effect of vibrations and how to compensate for them as well as PSF-reconstruction of AO images. I have also some interests in galaxy dynamics and the use of gravitational lensing to resolve and study high-redshift galaxies.

What is your favorite movie?

Tough one… I’ll go for “La fille sur le Pont”, beautiful black and white movie from Patrice Leconte, definitely one of my all time favourite.

What is the latest book you have read?

Well I always have several ones going. At the moment I’m busy with “Petit Pays” by Gael Faye, “Barbarian Days” by William Finnegan and “The Nix” by Nathan Hill.

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

Only 3 is a hard choice, but I guess I’ll go for:

“Hombre et Lumiere” by Claude Nougaro… I grew up listening to him, can’t go anywhere without some of his songs.

“” Fela Kuti… I definitely need jazz, very difficult to pick 1 album but I’ll go for one that covers African music as well.

“My Generation” The Who, because one needs some great classic rock too.

What is one hobby of yours?

The latest on a long list is outrigger Hawaiian canoe.

Favorite beverage?

Well, it depends on circumstances, but coffee and wine will be my 2 liquids of choice!

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

Journey Through the Universe 2018

Journey Through the Universe

Gemini’s flagship astronomy education and outreach program, Journey Through the Universe (Journey), celebrated a successful 14th year with a week of educational programming from March 5-9.

“Journey Through the Universe would not succeed without the help of our community partners and sponsors, including the Department of Education, Hawai’i Island business community, Maunakea Observatories, and NASA, among many others,” said Janice Harvey, Journey Through the Universe program coordinator. “Their continued support is a demonstration of their commitment to our community and the future of science education for Hawai’i students.”

Day 1 – Monday, March 5th

Astronomy Educator’s Reception at the Hilo Yacht Club

The Hawai’i Island Chamber of Commerce (HICC) and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawai’i (JCCIH) hosted a celebration for the astronomy community, the Department of Education and the business community. This annual event included Hilo-Waiākea/Kaʻū-Keaʻau-Pāhoa (KKP) Complex Area Superintendent Keone Farias, Journey Through the Universe (Journey) alumnus Devin Chu, and Gemini Observatory director Laura Ferrarese as featured guest speakers.

UCLA Astronomy PhD student (and Hilo High alumnus!) Devin Chu shares how the Journey program was influential in his life.

Gemini Observatory Journey Team Leader, Janice Harvey (left) and Superintendend of the Hilo/Waiākea and Kaʻū-Keaʻau-Pāhoa Complex Areas Keone Farias (right).

Hilo High School Career Panel

Journey Astronomy Educators visited classrooms in the Hilo-Waiākea/Kaʻū-Keaʻau-Pāhoa (KKP) Complexes, as well as schools in Honokaʻa and Waimea on Hawaiʻi Island. Along with classroom visits, several observatory professionals held a panel at Waiākea and Hilo High schools to discuss the diverse careers available at an observatory.

Left to right: Gemini Safety Manager John Vierra, UCLA Astronomy PhD student, Devin Chu, Gemini Interim Director Laura Ferrarese, Astrobiology PhD student Niki Thomas, W. M. Keck Observatory Software Engineer Liz Chock, and W. M. Keck Observatory Chief of Operations Rich Matsuda. Both John and Devin are Hilo High alumni!

Classroom Visits

Our Public Information and Outreach department followed Geminiʻs Science Operation Specialist Jocelyn Ferrera and Science Fellow Matt Taylor to Waiākea Elementary School. The pair taught classes of 4th graders about constellations, stories behind Orion and the Big Dipper, then built the constellations in 3D and observed them from different perspectives.

Jocelyn Ferrera (left) and Matt Taylor place students in order to construct 3D constellations, iterating how perspective affects how constellations appear on Earth.

Day 2 – Tuesday, March 6th

Classroom Visits

Journey educators (along with reporting crew from the Hawaiʻi Tribune-Herald) followed former Gemini Public Information and Outreach intern and current NASA Solar System Ambassador Sylvia Kowalski to Waiākeawaena Elementary School. Kowalski taught the 3rd grade classes how to construct paper rockets – engineered using tape and plastic straws. Students also learned how rockets work, building their understanding of how humans get to space!

Third-graders use their breath as fuel to launch their handmade paper rockets at Waiākeawaena Elementary School in Hilo. Credit: Hollyn Johnson/Tribune-Herald

PlutoPalooza

This yearʻs Journey program included NASAʻs PlutoPalooza team. In July 2015, New Horizons reached dwarf-planet Pluto and captured incredible images, allowing us to study Pluto in stunning detail. The community was given a rare opportunity to meet the men and women who captured Plutoʻs “heart” with amazing images, personal stories, and fascinating science!

On Tuesday morning, the team met over 60 third graders at ʻImiloa Astronomy Center to explore Pluto and the features discovered by New Horizons during its flyby. That evening, the team gave a free, public talk at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

The PlutoPalooza team Veronica Bray, Alice Bowman, Marc Buie, and Randy Monroe (left to right) attended the Astronomy Educatorʻs Reception at the Hilo Yacht Club.

Hilo High School Career Panel

Gemini Web Architect Jason Kalawe (standing), shares his career path and advice with Hilo High School students. This panel also included (left to right) East Asia Observatoryʻs Acting Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey, Astrobiology PhD student Niki Thomas, UCLA Astronomy PhD student Devin Chu, and Gemini Safety Manager John Vierra (not pictured).

Day 3 – Wednesday, March 7th

Classroom Visits

We followed more of Geminiʻs Public Information and Outreach department into the classroom. Gemini Media Relations and Local Outreach assistant, Alexis Acohido, showed 7th graders at Waiākea Intermediate School the layers of a space suit, and explained the importance of each in protecting astronauts.

Acohido explains one of the many layers of a spacesuit and demonstrates how an astronaut “gets dressed” for work.

Jasmin Silva, Media Relations and Outreach intern, taught Waiākea High Schoolʻs AP Environmental Science class about exoplanet detection methods, including mathematical tools to determine the size of a planet, and the difficulty behind directly imaging planets that are outside of our Solar System.

Day 4 – Thursday, March 8th

Classroom Visits

Gemini Northʻs Safety Manager, John Vierra, visited Waiākeawaena Elementary School to teach students about our home, the Solar System. Vierra taught them about each planet and their place in the Solar System, leading to the construction of a “pocket Solar System,” which demonstrates the scale of the distance between the planets.

Students, representing planets, line up to demonstrate the order of celestial bodies in our Solar System.

Day 5 – Friday, March 9th

Classroom Visits

On the final day of this yearʻs Journey week, we again followed more of the Public Information and Outreach department into the classroom. Christine Copes, Outreach Assistant and Hannah Blomgren, Media Relations and Outreach intern, demonstrate the timeline of the universe as scaled down to one calendar year. Students guess when the events occurred by placing them on the calendar, later explained by Blomgren.

Blomgren created this activity, aiming to teach important events that occurred as the universe formed and evolved, and to illustrate how brief human existence is in the scheme of time.

Copes (blue shirt) and Blomgren assist students who are determining when pivotal astronomical and biological events happened on a cosmic timescale.