First Closed-Loop Experiment with the GMT Simulator

Tonight was supposed to be MagAO-X’s third night on sky with the Magellan Clay telescope in Chile, but due to the pandemic, MagAO-X is still sitting in the lab in Tucson. It’s sad that we haven’t been to Chile since 2019, but we have been making the most of the time that we do have with MagAO-X in the lab. In fact, we have even started to use MagAO-X on a different telescope! …sort of.

Meet the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) simulator, otherwise known as the “High Contrast Adaptive Optics Testbed” (HCAT). This testbed sits in the room next-door to MagAO-X, and its job is to trick MagAO-X into thinking that it is actually observing at the Giant Magellan Telescope.

The Giant Magellan Telescope simulator. This feeds light through a hole in the wall and into MagAO-X.
The solid model of the GMT simulator (right) feeding light into MagAO-X (left) through a hole in the wall.

The purpose of HCAT is to test things for the GMT, hence why it is called a “testbed.” Specifically, we want to see if an extreme adaptive optics instrument like MagAO-X would work with the GMT and its unique seven mirror design.

We have been working hard over the past several months to build and align the GMT simulator with MagAO-X, and just this week we have finally achieved the first closed-loop experiment with MagAO-X! Below is a video of our first closed loop experiment:

First closed-loop experiment with the GMT simulator and MagAO-X.

In the video shown above, you can see the image go from a blurry mess (because of simulated turbulence) to a corrected image (thanks to the adaptive optics system). But the corrected image may look a little strange to some. This is because the GMT simulator pupil is actually only four GMT segments instead of seven. So the result is a strange, asymmetric-looking image. Below is a simulation of what the image of a star looks like for our 4-segment GMT simulator versus the actual 7-segment GMT. We use these simulated images as a reference to know what we are looking for.

This was a huge step for the GMT because now we have a real GMT extreme adaptive optics simulator working in the lab. We will start to do some really cool experiments with piston sensing and AO control over the next couple of years which will be crucial for the success of the GMT and the search for life in extraterrestrial solar systems with GMagAO-X.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 33: May The 4th Be With You

It’s officially May the 4th 2020, and may the Fourth be with you! The fourth of May is great because it’s an excuse for all of us to relive the fact that Star Wars is the greatest thing ever, even though it sometimes feels like it happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Where were you when “it happened” (when you first watched Star Wars)? Were you in theaters? At home? What year was it? For some, it happened in 1977. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born for that moment, but my life did not go too long without seeing Star Wars (thanks to my parents, although it wasn’t their idea to get me into swinging fake lightsabers around in the backyard, or playing countless hours of Star Wars Battlefront 2). For others, they have yet to even see Star Wars! I personally envy those people, because they have no idea what a great experience awaits them.

Star Wars may seem annoying to some people, while for others, it can mean much more. Luckily for both parties, we can all agree that Star Wars memes are a surprisingly great byproduct of the franchise. So following Lauren’s Post about “Star Wars Prequel Memes,” I wanted to share a few of my own favorite Star Wars memes.

As a tribute to the pun of the day, “May the Fourth be with you,” this meme takes the pun one step further:

The rest are a collection of random Star Wars memes I have saved on my phone:

Think about it though, why did Padme really die? There are many conspiracy theories about this...
a great meme for math geeks

For those of you who are eager for a little Star Wars action, check out this really cool fan film, Darth Maul: Apprentice.

The song of the day is not necessarily a “song,” but could be considered more of a “music video.” This fan-made video, called “Before The Dark Times,” gives you the same cool story that Obi-Wan tells Luke in Episode IV, but with a much darker perspective through flashbacks and John Williams soundtracks. It is sure to give you the chills, if you take the time to watch it.

MagAO-X 2020A: New Year New Me

Happy new year from MagAO-X! The instrument is back in the lab, and today we opened the panels for the first time to find that no optics have been damaged! “Another happy landing,” as Obi-Wan would say.

On January 10, MagAO-X arrived at the University of Arizona. Southwest Rigging used the forklift to bring the boxes down to the Steward Observatory loading dock.

Southwest Rigging unloading MagAO-X from the truck.
Jared pointing at stuff to look cool.
Bringing MagAO-X down to the loading dock. Jared not leaving its side. Sebastian trailing behind.
All boxes were stored safely inside!

Eventually we managed to unpack MagAO-X and the electronics rack. We brought them up to the lab, rebuilt the clean room, and today we opened it up!

MagAO-X sitting safely in the clean room, ready to be unwrapped.
Welcome back!

We are just about ready to cable up the instrument and turn everything on. Over the next two months, we will do a lot of software testing and install a few new components into the system. By April 10, MagAO-X will ship back to Chile and we will return to the desert for the next telescope run on May 3 – 10.

MagAO-X 2019B Day 12: The End

Well it has been a long, exciting, and successful run for MagAO-X first light, but now it is time to say goodbye to LCO (until next time). We successfully closed the loop on-sky with MagAO-X and took plenty of data to take home with us, and now we are all packed and ready to ship MagAO-X back home! We expect MagAO-X to arrive in Tucson by January, so we will have a few months to work on the instrument before we return to LCO in May 2020.

Today, we finished boxing up MagAO-X and the electronics rack. We cleaned and organized the clean room and made sure all of our MagAO-X tools and equipment were stored safely, and then we were done! We finished just in time for a nice, relaxing dinner and now we only have our clothes to pack. Here are some pictures from today:

MagAO-X was moved onto a wooden pallet for shipping support.
Juan took a big hammer to the pallet to shim it to the center of the MagAO-X box.
The MagAO-X box lifted by the fork lift.
MagAO-X is ready for pickup!

After lunch, we spotted a family of guanacos! There seemed to be a mother, father, and two children in the family. I was quite pleased to see guanacos two days in a row after not seeing them the entire time I’ve been in Chile.

The suspected “dad” of the guanaco family.
The rest of the guanaco family (mother and children?).

We headed up the hill after lunch to pack up the electronic rack.

Juan and the mechanics lifting the electronics rack shipping box.
The shipping box lifted up.
The front cover removed.
The top cover removed.
The electronics rack being inserted into its shipping box.
The front and top panels were bolted on.
The box was laid down.
The fork lift was used to place the electronics rack next to MagAO-X
They are ready to go!

We were glad to finally see the instrument safely packed up and ready to go. The mechanics did a great job, so thanks to them!

We finished cleaning up the clean room and put all of our stuff away. Now the clean room looks super clean!

Now we are ready to go home. It’s been a great run LCO, we will miss you (the food). But no matter where we go, there is almost no place like home for the holidays.

MagAO-X 2019B Day 11: Packing Up

Yesterday, after our last night on-sky, we began moving the instrument off of the telescope to get it ready to ship back home to Tucson. This also meant that we had to shift back to a day schedule, so Laird and I woke up from a short nap to begin the move at 8:00 am while Jared, Joseph, and Kyle went to bed. The days get a bit mixed up when switching between night and day schedules, so today’s blog post will include events from yesterday and today.

We began building the cart around MagAO-X on the Nasmyth platform on the morning of day 10.

Building the cart around MagAO-X

We lifted the cart up to the instrument using the crane and bolted it to the instrument. Then, we lifted up the instrument off of its legs and rolled the legs away.

The mechanics carefully balancing the instrument.
Mechanics and Laird rolling the legs onto the elevator.
The legs were placed on dollies.
The legs were rolled into the Auxiliary building.

Then, we rolled the instrument into the Auxiliary building.

MagAO-X at the bottom of the elevator.
MagAO-X in the Aux building.

To ensure that MagAO-X is installed on the telescope exactly the same way in May 2020, we had the mechanics match-drill four of the table leg plates to the Nasmyth platform. This will help us find the exact alignment position of MagAO-X in the future, to make the alignment process faster and easier.

Laird and I wrapped up the instrument in saran-wrap and emergency blankets for the move from the telescope to the clean room (the emergency blankets are to protect the instrument from excessive heat exposure from the sun).

MagAO-X looking like it’s ready to go to space even though it’s just going down the road.

After waiting for several hours for the Isuzu truck, we finally moved everything to the clean room.

MagAO-X on the Isuzu.
The table legs on the Isuzu.
The electronics rack on the pickup truck (and the three stooges Laird, Jared, and Joseph).

Finally, Laird and I crashed for the night and our first attempt to stay on a day schedule was somewhat successful.

Today, we woke up early for breakfast and said farewell to Kyle, Joseph, and Olivier as they left on the 8:00 am shuttle.

Kyle, Joseph, and Olivier leaving on the shuttle.

Then Jared, Laird and I headed up to the clean room to pack up the optics and make sure that everything was ready for shipping. When the mechanics arrived, we packed up MagAO-X!

The MagAO-X box opened.
MagAO-X getting ready to be crane-lifted.
Laird heroically balancing the instrument as it’s lifted.
Laird mounting the MagAO-X braces to help reduce impact forces from shipping.
The instrument was bolted to the shipping frame, and the cart was removed.
MagAO-X ready for shipping!

And after the 3 total weeks I’ve spent at Las Campanas Observatory hearing about “Gary the Guanaco,” I finally got to witness the true majesty of this creature up close and personal today. Gary gave me just enough time to take all the pictures I wanted, even posing for me while I was at it.

Gary the Guanaco majestically looking out into the distance.

There is but one day left for the MagAO-X team until we finally head home for the holidays. All we have to do is pack up the electronics rack and do some final organizing, so things are looking good!

Today’s song of the day will be Chris Hadfield’s “Space Oddity,” the first music video ever recorded in space. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out!