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NICI Planet Search Campaign Request for Proposals

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Proposals are invited for the NICI Planet Search Campaign on Gemini South. Here we give an overview of the Campaign as well as proposal guidelines and restrictions.

(1) Background and Campaign Goals

The Gemini Near-IR Coronagraphic Imager (NICI) is designed to detect faint companions to relatively bright stars. It uses an on-board 85-element curvature wavefront sensing Adaptive Optics (AO) system to concentrate the starlight, and a coronagraph to block as much of the starlight as possible. It has two imaging channels with separate Aladdin III detectors to simultaneously image in two adjacent narrow bands across the 1.6 micron methane feature. NICI is therefore optimized for discovering gas giant planets and brown dwarfs around nearby stars.

To have a reasonable chance of successfully finding extrasolar planets and understanding their properties, a significant number of stars must be surveyed. The Gemini partnership understands that this requires a large amount of observing time distributed over a number of years. In consultation with the Gemini Science Committee, the Gemini Board of Directors has directed Gemini to offer approximately 50 nights over two to three years for the execution of a NICI Planet Finding Campaign. This time will be awarded by the Gemini Director to a single team, based on the assessment and recommendation of the International Time Allocation Committee (ITAC) and a panel of independent experts, which will review the proposals and make a recommendation to the Director.

(2) Proposal Requirements

The NICI Campaign goes well beyond the typical Gemini proposal in both scientific scope and the observing time being awarded. The winning campaign proposal must include not only scientific justification, a target list, and observing strategies, but also a plan for managing the project over a number of years. Data reduction software will be needed. The team will require resources (time and money) to achieve the goals of the survey.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) and RFP Addendum #1 contain detailed instructions for preparing your NICI campaign proposal. In addition to the Request for Proposals, Gemini is distributing a Statement of Work which will form the core of a Memorandum of Understanding between Gemini and the winning campaign team. It is provided so that proposing teams will understand what will be required if their proposal is successful. If changes to the Statement of Work are desired, they should be noted in the proposal.

(3) Submission Instructions

Detailed instructions for proposal submission are included in the RFP. NICI campaign proposals must be submitted to Gemini directly, not to partner countries, by using the "Demo Science or SV" button in the Phase I tool (PIT). Proposals are due at 6:00 p.m. in Chile on 7 November 2005.

Proposals are welcome from anyone in the Gemini partnership. Co-investigators from outside the Gemini partnership may be included at the discretion of the PI. Gemini staff members may participate in the proposal process. Submission of a Letter of Interest is not a requirement for submitting a proposal.

Guide star requirements:

At the present time we anticipate using the peripheral wavefront sensors in conjunction with NICI's AO system to correct for wind shake and telescope tracking errors. Experiments with Hokupaa-85 showed that this method of combining PWFS and AO is quite robust. There may be times and conditions that do not require the additional PWFS guide star, but to guarantee flexibility and performance, PWFS guide stars should be included. Targets will not be rejected if there is no PWFS guide star available.

Note that the target list can be uploaded into the PIT from a properly-formatted text file (see instructions). PWFS guide stars can be retrieved automatically using the existing PIT facilities (see instructions).

(4) NICI Sensitivity and Performance

Detailed performance and sensitivity measurements will be made when NICI is delivered and commissioned on the telescope. It is very important that proposals maintain flexibility in target selection, observing conditions required, and observing techniques. After commissioning, changes to the target list and observing strategy may be needed to insure an efficient and successful campaign.

The RFP contains a baseline performance estimate that all proposals are required to use, and detailed instructions for how to determine expected sensitivity for different guide star brightnesses and observing conditions. The baseline estimate allows proposing teams to focus on forming a strong team and science case, and not spend their time trying to model or estimate the complex interactions of NICI, its AO system, the telescope, and the weather to try to decide what contrast ratio will be achievable. The primary goal of the proposal process is to select the campaign team, not try to guess how NICI will perform. There is no NICI Integration Time Calculator available.

Information about NICI (filters, masks, etc.) is available on the NICI web pages. Details about the NICI baseline performance assumptions are included in the RFP. Any clarifications or additional information will be posted on this web page and sent to all those who submitted Letters of Interest.

Members of the NICI Campaign team will be invited to participate in NICI commissioning runs during early 2006. It is anticipated that these commissioning nights will be used to test performance assumptions, refine observing strategies, and adjust the Campaign program as necessary to maximize the chances of success.

(6) Anticipated Schedule

NICI is scheduled to be delivered to Gemini-South later this year. After acceptance, NICI commissioning will begin. Commissioning is expected to begin early in 2006. We would like to have the NICI Campaign team involved in the commissioning observations to help prepare for the campaign. Following successful commissioning, Campaign observations may be scheduled during semester 2006A. The commissioning and early Campaign observations will allow the team to work out the details of the observing strategy, better characterize NICI's performance, test software, and get an early baseline observation on some of the highest priority targets. Regular NICI programs approved through the normal national TAC process are expected begin in semester 2006B. Starting in 2006B, it is anticipated that regular PI-led NICI observations and campaign observations will have a comparable amount of observing time assigned to each.

NICI campaign observing time will be scheduled in assigned blocks within the regular queue. Observing time in these blocks will be used for campaign observations when conditions are appropriate, and will revert to other Gemini queue observations when they are not. This will allow the team to schedule observers to come to Gemini-South for observing runs, and will insure that the best observing conditions are shared between campaign and regular PI-led NICI projects.

(7) Team Formation

The Gemini partnership is collectively allocating the time for the NICI Planet Search Campaign. It is important that the final campaign team have broad representation across the partnership. To assist in the formation of international collaborations and teams, Gemini requested Letters of Interest prior to the Call for Proposals. Those who submitted letters and expressed willingness to allow their names to be published are listed here.

Last update Sept. 16, 2005; Joe Jensen

Gemini Observatory Participants