MagAO-C 2019B Day 6: Back in the Saddle Again

I’m working on telescope domination this week. I started at Clay using MIKE (well, not really, I got clouded out). I moved to duPont using CAPSCam, I had a night off to visit with the MagAO team, and now I’m back at Clay using MagAO. Tomorrow I’m off to Baade with MagE. Have a telescope or instrument, I’m there!

It’s been a while, so I took last night to get reacquainted with my old friend Clio. It’s like riding a bike (or maybe like being back in the saddle again, though I wouldn’t really know), it turns out. I think I might even have muscle memory for the Camera Control GUI.

Last night was great, but tonight, well, we have some problems. The Clio pupil mask was out of place, though it was fine last night and no one should have touched the motor. Then, the MagAO systems stopped communicating with each other correctly. But by 1 AM, we were back in the saddle again.

So, let’s talk about the weather, animals, and classic songs instead. The sunset was beautiful.

Clouds make for lovely sunsets, and I’m fine with these on-the-horizon beauties as long as they don’t come overhead. If you look very carefully (at least, I could see them on my phone screen), you can see Venus, Jupiter and Saturn along the ecliptic. Yes, our planets seem to have formed in a disk.

We have a big group up here, possibly larger than I’ve seen since my first MagAO runs up here in 2013 or 2014. I love the number of women we’ve got working here. Last night there were none of those beautiful clouds at all, when we gathered on the catwalk at sunset:

a whole lot of AO operators and astronomers
Sunset with the whole gang: Logan, Me, Jared, Katie, Amali, Elisabeth, and Emily

This week, I’ve seen a fox, more than a dozen burros, a herd of goats, and at least three vizcachas, so I’m only missing a guanaco to get LCO animal bingo. I have never seen a vizcacha sunning him(her?)self like this before.

A vizcacha sunning itself on the wall next to the Astronomer Support Building this afternoon.

I am using the classic Gene Autry, “Back in the Saddle Again” as my song tonight.

I’m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend [here’s looking at you Katie, Jared, MagAO and Clio]
Where the longhorn burro cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed [or whatever those plants are outside]
Back in the saddle again

Ridin’ the range sky once more
Totin’ my old .44 wavefront sensor
Where you sleep out every night day
And the only law is right sky is fey
Back in the saddle again

Gene Autry – Back in the Saddle Again

MagAO 2018A Day 9: The Universe

I don’t have much to say, so I figured I would title this “The Universe” as that covers anything I might be tempted to say. Actually, we were discussing Arthur C Clarke tonight, and Katie found this good quote from him, “I sometimes think that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers.” I hope I continue to be astonished. As I said in this interview for the DTM website — it’s a shame to lose a sense of curiosity.

Tonight is my last night, so it’s goodbye to LCO for at least a few months. Good luck to the rest of the MagAO users!

Here are some photos from dawn and sunset:

Dawn on Sunday. Note the conspicuous lack of clouds as soon as the Sun rose. But the dawn was a harbinger of empanadas at least.

Sunset on Sunday. Note that the sky is still clear. The dome was open early for some tests on the infrared camera.

The wild vizcacha of the hillside to the north of the Magellan Telescopes. He/She stayed still just long enough for a photo before hopping away. I like the stripe down his/her back.

The Universe makes us feel small, so that’s a link, perhaps tenuous to this song by one of my favorite singers, Suzanne Vega, called “Small Blue Thing.”

I hope someone strumming in her home studio counts as a cover:

MagAO 2018A Day 8: She blinded me with 73 clouds

Last night was my first night, and after I bragged about bringing the clear skies with me, the clouds rolled in. Nevertheless, we got some good data, if “good” can be defined as finding out a star is binary when I was hoping it would not be.

Note: It is possible to take 73 full frame coadds or cube images with Clio. Yes, 73. That’s tonight’s magic number, in case you’re entering the lottery.

This week has been exciting for the astronomical community, with the 2nd Gaia data release. We now know the distances to 1.3 billion stars, and some at fantastic precision. One of my favorite disk-hosting stars, HD 141569, was in the catalog of the Hipparcos mission with a parallax of 10.10 +/- 0.83 mas (that’s about 99 pc +/- 9 pc or 323 +/- 30 light years). The new parallax is 9.04 +/- 0.04 mas — yes, you read that correctly, a factor of more than 20 improvement in our knowledge of the distance (now 110.6 +/- 0.5 pc). There’s so much to do with the data for studying associations of young stars; it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Can I find a star that is 73 pc away you ask? Why, of course. There’s HD 89252 (actually 73.4 +/- 0.3 pc).

The fun here at Magellan is in studying individual stars’ environments in great detail, when the clouds stay away. I want to turn from clouds to science.

A cloudy sunset was followed by more clouds, some thinner clouds, and then more clouds.

I also want to educate Katie on 80s New Wave Pop:

And, yes, I read the rules, so here’s the cover.

2017B Day 9: Clouds

The most exciting thing to happen tonight, alas, was the return of our friend the owl. You can see her or him silhouetted nicely here against that white background known as clouds. Note the red and blue dots representing where the telescopes are pointing are straight up overhead — that’s because both domes are closed with both telescopes at rest.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 1.18.34 AM

We were wondering tonight about the attraction of the all sky camera to the owl. Does it reflect some light so it looks like the eye of a small edible critter? Is the owl vain and looking at its reflection? Is the camera just conveniently located on the ridge where there are plentiful mice about? Is one of the staff baiting the camera to keep us entertained? In this era of fake news, my own son accused me of making up the Magellanic Horned Owl, because it seemed too much of a coincidence to him that I’d be sitting at Magellan and seeing the Bubo Magellanicus.

In other wildlife news, today I saw a herd of (loud) burros, one small vizcacha, and a lot of (loud) birds. I had a lovely walk this afternoon when the sun was out, the birds were tweeting, and I was still optimistic the clouds would clear. There seems to be an exceptional amount of greenery and flowers around, as you can see below. During a public outreach event a couple years ago I made a joke about how green plants were bad for astronomy, meaning of course, that plants need water and open domes don’t. OK, so it wasn’t funny and apparently also went over the head of at least one member of my audience who the asked why the stars cared about the plants.



“And there’s something bout the Southland in the springtime.” This wasn’t the South-land that the Indigo Girls had in mind (Texas this is not, and I’m happy to be a Yankee – but not for baseball!), but it does appear to be spring time.

2017A Day 10: We Collaborate with Order and Workplace

It’s great to be back at LCO after a 15 month drought from observing here. That’s the longest I’ve gone without being here since 2009! All the same great people are still here, and it’s a pleasure to be back working with the staff and MagAO team. If you’re wondering about the title of the post, it’s from a new sign in the Clay Telescope kitchen that seems to have to do with making sure not to steal the dishes. Maybe it reads less like an edict from a communist authoritarian government in Spanish (“Colaboremos con el orden y trabajo”).

Tonight started with a unimpressive, as in barely noticeable, penumbral Lunar eclipse, but a nevertheless beautiful Moon-rise. The Moon is an astronomical object that my little thermal IR camera can detect for sure. On the other hand, Jared and I are considering writing our own FLIR control software for observing alpha Cen.

Moon rise at 10 microns.
Moon rise at 10 microns.

This afternoon I did Google Hangouts with both of my sons’ science classes. I think there was only one question asked by both sets of kids, and it was how much it cost to build Magellan. The best question I got was, “What is the most surprising thing you’ve ever found at the telescope?” I love the question, but I didn’t have the heart to explain how many hours of data reduction go into discoveries after leaving the telescope. Unfortunately, the slow internet connection we’ve had here meant they didn’t get to fully appreciate the video show that Mauricio put on as he slewed the telescope for them.

Speaking of Mauricio, here’s a cool (pun intended) picture of him washing the Clay primary with CO2 yesterday, in the IR, of course.

Cleaning Clay’s primary with cold CO2.

I saw two vizcachas at the ASB this afternoon and four vizcachas out behind the telescope tonight. You want to see IR photos of a vizcacha, you say? Why, of course you do.

That’s one hot vizzy

The internet is not letting me post pictures or YouTube videos. So here are some lyrics for Rock Lobster by the B-52s:
Here comes a stingray
There goes a manta-ray
In walked a jelly fish
There goes a dog-fish
Chased by a cat-fish
In flew a sea robin
Watch out for that piranha
There goes a narwhal
Here comes a bikini whale!

Oooh, wait, some bits are getting through finally…