compensating system

usatoday.com
U.S. accuses Google of underpaying female workers
Government investigators looking into how Google pays its employees have accused the tech giant of shortchanging women doing similar work to men.

Government investigators looking into how Google pays its employees have accused the tech giant of shortchanging women doing similar work to men.

A U.S. Department of Labor official disclosed the agency’s allegations during a Friday court hearing in San Francisco.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a Labor Department regional director, testified, according to a report published by The Guardian.

If average production worker pay had risen at the same rate as CEO pay between 1990 and 1998, worker pay would be $110,399 in 98', rather than the 98' $29,267. The minimum wage would be $22.08, in 1998 rather than the current for that time (5.75). The trend has continued to make the rich, more rich, without a second thought for those on min wage. You can't tell me the upper class aren't crooks! Open your eyes!

This is 1998 statistics. In the past decade, pay for ceo has more than doubled while the lower and middle class had it’s pay doubled but it took over more than 2 decades. Something isn’t right. We can barely live off minimum wage. Wake up America!

Focus & Recompose - 201

This is more for those of us who don’t have the best auto-focus systems. For example, I used a 400D and then a 5DMKII, neither of which are famed for their auto-focus system.

To compensate, I use the middle auto-focus point which is generally the most reliable, then I’ll recompose to get the composition I initially desired. On the shot above I used the middle focus point on the branch and then recomposed.

This method is far from fool-proof but if you have a steady enough hand you’ll hit the nail on the head 9/10 times. It can be a little trickier with wide apertures because the depth of field is so shallow that slight movement on the back and forth axis can result in soft focus, so beware.

Taken with the Canon 400D + 50mm 1.8

[F1.8 | 1/1000th | ISO100]

Photos by Iain A

[ Flickr | Tumblr | Instagram | Wishlist ]

6

Four Lasers Over Paranal

First light for the Four Laser Guide Star Facility on ESO’s Very Large Telescope


On 26 April 2016 ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile hosted an event to mark the first light for the four powerful lasers that form a crucial part of the adaptive optics systems on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Attendees were treated to a spectacular display of cutting-edge laser technology against the majestic skies of Paranal. These are the most powerful laser guide stars ever used for astronomy and the event marks the first use of multiple laser guide stars at ESO.

ESO staff were present for the event, along with senior representatives of the companies that have manufactured the different components of the new system.

The Four Laser Guide Star Facility (4LGSF) shines four 22-watt laser beams into the sky to create artificial guide stars by making sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere glow so that they look just like real stars [1]. The artificial stars allow the adaptive optics systems to compensate for the blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere and so that the telescope can create sharp images. Using more than one laser allows the turbulence in the atmosphere to be mapped in far greater detail to significantly improve the image quality over a larger field of view.

The Four Laser Guide Star Facility is an example of how ESO enables European industry to lead complex research and development projects. The fibre laser used by the 4LGSF is also one of the most successful transfers of ESO technology to industry.

TOPTICA, the German main contractor, was responsible for the laser system and provided the oscillator, the frequency doubler, and the system control software. Wilhelm Kaenders, president of TOPTICA, said: “TOPTICA has enjoyed the collaboration with ESO tremendously. It is not only the personal thrill of being engaged with astronomy, an old passion, again, and working with very clever ESO technologists; it is also the inspiration that we have received for our own commercial product development.” [2]

MPBC of Canada provided the fibre laser pumps and Raman amplifiers, which are based on an ESO licensed patent. Jane Bachynski, President of MPB Communications Inc. said: “MPBC is proud to have worked with ESO in the development of Raman fibre amplifiers to much higher powers, allowing MPBC to bring this technology to the stars. This event marks the culmination of many years of hard work on behalf of all involved.” [3]

TNO in the Netherlands manufactured the optical tube assemblies, which expand the laser beams and direct them into the sky. Paul de Krom, CEO of TNO, said: “TNO valued the cooperative working environment during the development of the optical tube assemblies and looks forward to the opportunity to work with ESO and the other partners in the 4LGSF project in the future.” [4]

The 4LGSF is part of the Adaptive Optics Facility on Unit Telescope 4 of the VLT, designed specifically to provide the adaptive optics systems GALACSI/MUSE and GRAAL/HAWK-I with four sodium laser guide stars. With this new facility, Paranal Observatory continues to have the most advanced and the largest number of adaptive optics systems in operation today.

The 4LGSF lasers were developed by ESO with industry and have already been procured, among others, by the Keck Observatory (which contributed to the industrial laser development cost along with the European Commission) and the Subaru Telescope. In the future these industrial lasers will also feature on the telescopes at the Gemini Observatory and will be the preferred choice for several other observatories and extremely large telescope projects.

The new techniques developed for the Four Laser Guide Star Facility pave the way for the adaptive optics system of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the world’s biggest eye on the sky.

Notes


[1] The 4LGSF is the second generation laser guide star facility, built by ESO for the Adaptive Optics Facility on the UT4 VLT telescope. The two critical long-lead items for the 4LGSF, the laser system and the optical tube assemblies for the laser launch telescope systems have been procured from industry. The fibre Raman laser technology, on which the 4LGSF laser system is based, has been developed at ESO, patented and licensed to industry.


[2] This project has allowed TOPTICA to extend its products into a new wavelength and output power regime. It now produces the SodiumStar 20/2, which is recognised as a quasi-standard for existing and planned telescopes around the world. All next generation extremely large telescope projects, for example, use the SodiumStar laser as their baseline. During the seven years of collaboration with ESO the company has grown from 80 people to more than 200 today.


[3] MPBC’s collaboration with ESO has also generated an additional benefit, in the form of an offshoot product line of single frequency amplification products at virtually any wavelength, supporting novel applications for the scientific and commercial research community.


[4] The developments by TNO also involved contributions from many suppliers from the Netherlands (Vernooy, Vacutech, Rovasta, Schott Benelux, Maxon Motor Benelux, IPS technology, Sensordata and WestEnd) and other international companies (RMI, Qioptiq, Laser Components, Carl Zeiss, GLP, Faes, Farnell, Eriks and Pfeiffer). The knowledge and technologies advanced by working with ESO feed into TNO’s Dutch and European partners, in fields including astronomy, communications, semiconductor manufacturing, medical devices, space science and Earth observation.

More information

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

[MM]v1.5.7 iOS Update

Please update your app.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mystic-messenger/id1116027365?mt=8

For Mystic Messenger v1.5.7 the following has been fixed/updated.
- Made the autosave system more stable.
- Sometimes available rooms turning into missed rooms fixed.
- Game optimizations.
- Imporved timezone system.

*Compensation for this update has been increased to 50 hourglasses due to features inaccessible in few devices and frequent updates.

Thank you.

Every single word out of Garnet’s mouth right now is managing to be the most hilarious thing. I’ve enjoyed her from the beginning, but I hadn’t properly appreciated until now just how hysterical she is when you take her deadpan nature and combine it with the most ridiculous but true shit to an audience of skeptics.

COMEDY GOLD

Anyway, Garnet’s gloriously slo-mo hand wave aside, CASUAL INFO DROP ON THIS THING

That’s where the Gems actually live, an “inner sanctum of the temple”, which Pearl says has been here “for thousands of years”.

I have little to directly do with that information right now, but I am glad to have it.

The VLT’s artificial star

This new image, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi, shows a stunning array of colours, ranging from the haze of pink dominating the bottom of the frame to the blues and whites of the Milky Way above. The blocks visible at the foreground of the image are the Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), based at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Cutting through the scene is a harsh yellow slash. This prominent streak is the VLT’s laser guide star, which is part of the telescope’s adaptive optics system that compensates for the blurring effects of the atmosphere. Light from the sky is distorted as it travels through the atmosphere due to local variations. Whenever possible, astronomers hunt down a bright star to calibrate their observations, but when there is no suitable star near enough to their target, they have to rely on an artificial one — created by pointing a bright, piercing laser up into the night, as shown in this image.

Image credit: ESO/G. Lombardi (glphoto.it)

Credits for the banner goes to @alphaofdarkness!

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Eremika Secret Santa will be returning for 2016! Please take the time to read this post, as all the specifics about it will be explained in detail, and all your questions will be answered. Since this blog took over the Secret Santa event last year, we developed a system that worked out very well, and it will be brought back for this year. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s fine too -we have a buffer in place to ensure people who do not celebrate Christmas are not left out if you wish to participate in a bit of Eremika shippy feels!  

Keep reading

Rough Notes [PBE]

General

Pushing to the PBE sometime tonight or tomorrow. Going to throw up a really rough changelist of the subtle stuff. I’m going to take the time to call out more subtle things that are harder to notice and give much less detail about the really obvious stuff.

These are really rough patch notes and we are highly interested in heavily iterating on a lot of these. For example, I’d love to hear your suggestions for what cool Dragon bonuses could be - and I know we’re still heavily iterating on the Jungle.

 

I’m going really light on context in this post because this isn’t an official patch notes - I just wanted to get a good list of details out there so you guys have some inkling of what’s going on when the stuff gets deployed to PBE.

As usual, if you have questions, feel free to ask but try to keep it in this thread if possible.

Fountain Regeneration


Improving feel of regeneration in fountain

  1. Fountain Regeneration now heals for 25% of the amount healed on live but ticks 4 times as fast.

Stat Growth Per Level
Champion base stats and stat growth per level adjusted to help reduce the impact of early level advantages

  1. Roughly, characters will start the game with an additional 68% of their per level statistic compared to live.
  2. Each level, characters will gain from 72 to 128% of their per level statistic compared to live, totalling to 1700% of your per level statistic.

Bounty Changes
With Stats Growth Per Level changes, early advantages are somewhat diminished - thus removing the unpopular gold rubberbanding mechanic from S4 to compensate for the new system of stats growth

  1. Kill gold is no longer reduced before 4 minutes.
  2. Gold gained from Assists now scales from 25% to 50% over the first 210 seconds of the game.

Death Timers
Shifting Death Timers to be longer based on level for a larger portion of the game to give a team on the backfoot an uptime advantage

  1. Death Timers now increase by 2% every 30 seconds starting at 35 minutes, rather than 2% every 60 seconds starting at 25 minutes.

Towers
Towers have received some changes to change both tower feel and to simplify the calculus involved in determining your damage to a tower

Inner Towers have been given some anti-split push / anti-siege potential. Inhibitor Towers have been given more ramp-up to make it easier to defend against single targets

  1. Towers no longer gain Armor and Magic Resistance over time, but they still gain Attack Damage.
  2. Tower Armor and Magic Resistance have been normalized to 100.
  3. Tower HP has been set to the following:
    Outer: 2000 Health
    Inner: 2000 Health
    Inhibitor: 2500 Health
    Nexus: 2000 Health
  4. Inner Towers have a new mechanic - Shielding:
    Inner Towers have a shield protecting them that regenerates after 60 seconds of not taking damage.
    While the shield holds, nearby champions gain a moderate shield as well.
  5. Inhibitor Towers have a new mechanic - Beam:
    Inhibitor Towers attack their target continuously, up to 4 times a second.
    Inhibitor Towers slowly ramp their damage from 100% to 260% over the course of 6.5 seconds.
    Inhibitor Towers slowly ignore their targets armor from 40% to 100% over the course of 6.5 seconds.
    Ramp is reset when Inhibitor Towers change targets.
  6. Base Tower regeneration reduced to 5 hp/5 from 15 hp/5

Minions
Simplifying Minion Math as well as removing the ability for resistance penetration to increase wave clear power

  1. Minions no longer gain Armor and Magic Resistance
  2. Minions gain increased maximum Health at a rate roughly comparable to the old resistance bonuses such that their effect HP is the same.

Homefield Advantage
Wanted to give the defending team an advantage in their base and remove other rubberbanding mechanics

  1. While a character is in their own base, they receive a movement speed and minor resistance bonus.

Inhibitor Respawn
Removing this rubberbanding mechanic as the base buff seems to accomplish the same thing while not dragging the game out artificially

  1. Inhibitors respawn timers increased to 300 seconds from 240.

Blue Buff
Blue Buff, acquired ealy, can lead to some unbreakable siege scenarios. With two buffs, this siege power can extend to 100% uptime. Wanted to reduce the duration on the buff a bit rather than attack the power of it to shorten some extended sieging scenarios

  1. Blue Buff duration reduced to 120 seconds from 150.

Red Buff
Blue buff is incredibly broad in application as it is used to dominate lane and contribute to clearing minions in wave clear, while red buff has some in-combat advantages - we wanted to give red buff some kind of role to play in a siege to give greater rewards to controlling the map before a siege

  1. Grants you 1% of your maximum Health every 5 seconds.
  2. Duration reduced to 120 seconds from 150.
  3. Slow reduced to 5-10% / 8-15% for ranged / melee characters from 5-15% / 8-24%
  4. Burn damage rescaled to 5-56 damage per second from 10-44 damage
  5. Burn damage now applies to Towers

New Powerup: Still Waters
Adding a pickup to the lanes after 20 minutes to add some incentive to visit this area in the mid and late game, as well as provide some split pushing power

  1. In the top and bottom lanes, at the entrance to river, a powerup will spawn beginning at 20 minutes and every 3 minutes thereafter.
  2. This buff confers:
    +50 out of combat movement speed.
    Standing Still for 0.5 seconds grants up to 25% increased vision range and the ability to look over walls.

Elixirs
Replacing current Elixirs with Elixirs that serve more divergent strategic powers, especially in the late game

  1. Elixir of Fortitude and Brilliance have been removed.
  2. You may only benefit from one elixir at a time.
  3. Elixirs may only be bought when your champion is level 9 or above.
  4. Elixir price increased to 400 gold.
  5. New Elixirs added:
    Elixir of Ruin: Grants Health, +% Tower Damage. Nearby minions gain +% Tower Damage and their movement speed is set to 90% of your own, up to 500.
    Elixir of Iron: Grants Size, Tenacity and Slow resistance. You leave a trail that increases ally movement speed by 10%
    Elixir of Sorcery: Grants AP, MP/5 and bonus true damage when damaging a champion or a tower.
    Elixir of Wrath: Grants AD, 10% physical vamp and scoring a kill or assist will extend the duration of the flask by 30 seconds.

Baron Nashor
Attempting to create a greater call to action for the team that has the Baron Nashor buff, rather than passively grind the opponent out

  1. Health and Regeneration removed (AD and AP boost remain the same)
  2. Baron Buff additionally grants you Empowered Recall, reducing your recall time to 4 seconds.
    This also massively heals you and grants you an 8 second movement speed buff once it finishes.
  3. Baron Buff buffs nearby minions around you significantly, causing them to gain up to 90% your Movement Speed as well as specific bonuses on type:
    Melee Minions: Gain 80% damage reduction from almost all damage types
    Ranged Minions: Gain increased damage and a minor increase in range.
    Siege Minions: Gain massive increases to range - such that they outrange towers. Their attacks are 50% slower but are AoE and deal 4x damage to towers.
    Super Minions: Gains 75% Movement Speed when nearby enemies as well as 25% Attack Speed.

Dragon
Dragon bonuses adjusted to be more ‘back-loaded’ so that a team that opts for a fast pushing strategy versus a team that goes for neutral objective control will spike in power at different times in the game

  1. Slaying Dragon now grants you a stack of 'Dragonslayer’ which grants different permanent bonuses depending on how many Dragons you’ve slain.
    Stack 1: Increased Regeneration
    Stack 2: Increased AD / AP
    Stack 3: Increased Movement Speed
    Stack 4: Increased Health
    Stack 5: Triples all other bonuses
  2. Dragon gives 50% reduced XP, compared to live.
  3. Dragon no longer grants global gold.
  4. Dragon deals 20% increased damage to units for every Dragon their team has slain.
  5. Dragon takes 7% reduced damage from units for every Dragon their team has slain.

Itemization Updates

Enchantment: Captain’s
Removing overlapping mechanics from Elixir of Ruin and Baron Buff - and most people didn’t use Captain’s for this purpose anyway

  1. Minion MS amplification removed.

Armor and Magic Resistance
Resistances are inherently reactive buys - and the constraint of Negatron Cloak and Chain Vest makes the act of cleverly reacting to your opponent much much harder than it should be

  1. All Armor and Magic Resistance items can now be built out of a cloth armor / null magic mantle.
  2. Recipes, gold costs, stats and build paths have been adjusted to compensate for the above change.
  3. In effect, there is now no meaningful difference between 'Chain Vest/Negatron Cloak’ items vs. 'Cloth Armor/Null Magic Mantle’ items as they will all build from the same root.

Health and Mana Regeneration
We’re swapping from items granting flat HP/5 and MP/5 to increasing a % of your base regeneration + % level regeneration. This allows different characters to benefit from regeneration items differently - as well as allowing these items to more naturally scale as the game goes on.

  1. Items that grant Health and Mana regeneration now grant either % Base Health Regeneration or % Base Mana Regeneration
  2. % Base Health / Mana Regeneration take into account your champion’s Health and Mana regeneration and any Health and Mana regeneration they gain per level.
  3. This does not take into account: skills, masteries, runes and other sources other than your champion statistic.

Example: Your champion has 7 mp/5 at level 1 and 18 mp/5 at level 18. You buy an item that grants +50% Base Mana Regeneration. At level 1, this item will provide an additional +3.5 mp/5 at level 1 and 9 mp/5 at level 18.

New Items

Crystalline Bracer
Recipe: Rejuvenation Bead + Ruby Crystal

  1. Grants Health and Regeneration.

Righteous Glory
Recipe: Catalyst + Crystalline Bracer

  1. Grants Health, Mana and Regeneration
  2. Active: Grants +60% MS to you and nearby allies when moving towards enemies for 2 seconds. When this speed boost ends, it emits a shockwave, slowing nearby enemy champions by 80% for one second.

Warmog’s Armor

  1. Health reduced to 800 from 100.
  2. Regeneration triples when out of combat.
  3. Cost slightly reduced.

Raptor’s Cloak
Recipe: Rejuvenation Bead + Cloth Armor + Rejuvenation Bead

  1. Grants bonus movement speed when near turrets or Zzrot Gates.

**Zz'rot Portal**
*Recipe: Raptor Cloak + Negatron Cloak*

  1. Spawns a gate at a location that summons monsters. These monsters proceed down the nearest lane and attack minions and damage towers.

Edit: Not currently in this build. Also no one spells like that.

Ohmwrecker
Recipe: Raptor Cloak + Kindlegem

  1. Active now boosts the damage of nearby towers by 100% or prevents nearby enemy towers from attacking.
  2. Stats adjusted to fit the recipe items (Health/Armor/Regen/CDR)

Jungle
Jungle is different now. For reasons!

Reasons that are outlined in the previous PBE post. Don’t look at me like that.

General


1. Jungle Difficulty and Rewards have been increased
2. Red and Blue buff timers moved to 2:30

New Jungle Camp: Scuttle crab
This neutral objective is intended to add control to the river as a setup for Baron / Dragon or provide protection/enable river ganks in the early game

  1. Spawns in top and bottom river and patrols the river it is in.
  2. Is not hostile - tries to run away from enemy champions.
  3. Grants a speed shrine in the river that provides vision and out of combat movement speed to people who cross it.

Smite
Smiting a large monster from one of the monster camps will now grant bonus XP and a monster specific bonus when you kill it - this ensures that the Jungler always potentially benefits more from the Jungle than other roles

Brambleback (Elder Lizard)
1. Restores a large amount of Health.

Blue Guardian (Ancient Golem)
1. Restore a large amount of Mana.

Krugs (Ancient Golem)

1. Grants Gift of Heavy Hands - adding Execute Damage to your attacks.

 

Gromp (Large Wraith)

1. Grants Gift of the Toadstool - grants Toadstool Armor, poisoning enemies that attack you.

Raptors (Wraith Camp)

1. Grants Gift of the Eagle Eye - grants you a buff that automatically grants you true sight for a short time the next time you are spotted by an enemy ward.

Murkwolf (Wolf Camp)
1. Grants Wolf Sentry - A ghostly wolf patrols that quardrant of the jungle for a moderate time. If an enemy champion enters that quadrant of the jungle, it’ll run at them and alert you to his position.

Jungle Itemization
Jungle itemization has been overhauled - all existing jungle items have been removed.

Hunter’s Machete
1. Hunter’s Machete now grants 30 magic damage on hit over 2 seconds and grants 8 health and 2 Mana per second while fighting monsters.
2. Hunter’s Machete can only be bought if you have Smite as a Summoner Spell.

Upgrades


Hunter’s Machete now upgrades into 4 items that amplify or change your Smite ability - depending on what overarching Jungle Strategy you want to do: Gank, Invade, Fast Clear, or Counterjungle

Stalker’s Blade
1. After killing 3 monsters, you can smite Teemo enemy champions, dealing a small amount of true damage and reducing their movement speed by 50% for 2 seconds.

Poacher’s Knife
1. Upgrade Smite to Quick Smite. Quick Smite has reduced cooldown - has further reduced cooldown when you kill large monsters and grants bonus gold if you use it on the monsters in the enemy jungle.

Skirmisher’s Saber
1. Upgrades Smite to Challenging Smite. Challenging Smite can be cast on an enemy champion - doing no true damage but revealing them for a long time and causing your attacks to deal bonus true damage each time you hit him.

Ranger’s Trailblazer
1. Upgrades Smite to Desolating Smite - which causes Smite to deal 50% splash damage to other nearby monsters as well as stun them for 1.5 seconds.

MOAR UPGRADES
The 4 above items can be enchanted with 4 enchantments that offer bonus statistics so you can customize the item based on what kind of role you want your jungler to transition to

Enchantment: Warrior
* Grants AD and Life Steal

Enchantment: Magus
* Grants AP and CDR

Enchantment: Juggernaut
* Grants Health, CDR and Movement Speed

Enchantment: Slayer
* Grants AS, CDR and a stacking AS buff

2

In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg made headlines by donating a staggering $100 million to the Newark public school system — but four years later, how much good has the big-ticket donation actually done? A new piece in The New Yorker looks at where the money went, taking a critical view of both the intransigent teacher’s unions and the reformers that seek to replace them. Tens of millions went to buying out old teacher contracts — which Mayor Cory Booker and others saw as a necessary political step before unions would let them remake the current compensation system — while millions more went to consultants and construction projects that offered little tangible benefit to the city’s students. The result was that, by March of 2013, the district was effectively broke, facing a $57 million budget gap. As one local figure put it, “everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/12/5710876/did-mark-zuckerbergs-100-million-really-help-newarks-schools

Sad that our public education system ran by the government is this far gone.

Not everyone will choose to invest in the opportunity to be exceptional, so most systemic regulation towards equality focuses on moving everyone towards the lowest common denominator by default. If you wish to live exceptionally, you must recognize this tendency in most social systems and compensate for it.


— A verameum styled post; I felt inspired. Follow him for worthwhile clarity & philosophical tidbits. 

2

OUT -OF -THIS -WORLD FIRST -LIGHT IMAGES EMERGE FROM GEMINI PLANET IMAGER

After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets orbiting around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.

“Even these early first-light images are almost a factor of 10 better than the previous generation of instruments. In one minute, we were seeing planets that used to take us an hour to detect,” says Bruce Macintosh of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the team who built the instrument.

For the past decade, Lawrence Livermore has been leading a multi-institutional team in the design, engineering, building and optimization of the instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), which will be used for high-contrast imaging to better study faint planets or dusty disks next to bright stars. Astronomers – including a team at LLNL – have made direct images of a handful of extrasolar planets by adapting astronomical cameras built for other purposes. GPI is the first fully optimized planet imager, designed from the ground up for exoplanet imaging deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes, the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.

Probing the environments of distant stars in a search for planets has required the development of next-generation, high-contrast adaptive optics (AO) systems, in which Livermore is a leader. These systems are sometimes referred to as extreme AO.

Macintosh said direct imaging of planets is challenging because planets such as Jupiter are a billion times fainter than their parent stars. “Detection of the youngest and brightest planets is barely within reach of today’s AO systems,” he said. “To see other solar systems, we need new tools.”

And those new tools are installed in the Gemini Planet Imager with the most advanced AO system in the world. In addition to leading the whole project, LLNL also was responsible for the AO system. Designed to be the world’s “most sophisticated” astronomical system for compensating turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere – an ongoing problem for ground-based telescopes – the system senses atmospheric turbulence and corrects it with a 2-centimeter-square deformable mirror with 4,000 actuators. This deformable mirror is made of etched silicon, similar to microchips, rather than the large reflective glass mirrors used on other AO systems. This allows GPI to be compact and stable. The new mirror corrects for atmospheric distortions by adjusting its shape 1,000 times per second with accuracy better than 1 nanometer. Together with the other parts of GPI, astronomers can directly image extra-solar planets that are 1 million to 10 million times fainter than their host stars.

GPI carried out its first observations in November 2013 – during an extremely smooth debut for an extraordinarily complex astronomical instrument the size of a small car. “The GPI team’s huge amount of high quality work has begun to pay off and now holds the promise of many years of important science to come,” said LLNL Project Manager David Palmer.

For GPI’s first observations, it targeted previously known planetary systems – the 4-planet HR8799 system (co-discovered by an LLNL-led team at the Gemini and Keck Observatory in 2008) and the Beta Pictoris system, among others. GPI has obtained the first-ever spectrum of the very young planet Beta Pictoris b.

The first-light team also used the instrument’s unique polarization mode – tuned to look at starlight scattered by tiny particles – in order to study a ring of dust orbiting the very young star HR4796. With previous instruments, only the edges of this dust ring (which may be the debris remaining from planet formation) could be seen. GPI can follow the entire circumference of the ring. The images were released today at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C. Jan. 5-9.

“GPI’s performance requirements are extremely challenging,” explained LLNL engineer Lisa Poyneer, who developed the algorithms used to correct for atmospheric turbulence, and led the testing of the adaptive optics system in the laboratory and at the telescope. “As a result, the AO system features several original technologies that were designed specifically for exoplanet science. After years of development and testing, it is very rewarding to see the AO system operating so well and enabling these remarkable images.”

Imaging exoplanets is highly complementary to other exoplanet success stories like NASA’s Kepler mission. Kepler is extremely sensitive to small planets close to their parent star and focuses on mature stars – GPI detects infrared radiation from young Jupiter-like objects in wide orbits, the equivalent of the giant planets in our solar system not long after their formation.

“GPI represents a critical step in the road toward understanding how planetary systems form and develop,” said Dmitry Savransky, an LLNL postdoc who worked on the integration and testing of GPI before moving to a position at Cornell. “While broad survey missions, such as Kepler, have revealed the variety of planets that exist in our galaxy, GPI will allow us to study a few dozen planets in exquisite detail.”