Congratulations M.Sc. Avalon !

Advisor Jared R. Males and Avalon McLeod

Today another shining star of the MagAO-X team has defended! We all are so happy to announce that Avalon McLeod, after powering through a triumph of a thesis and defense, now has her Masters degree in Optical science!

Ready? Set. GO!

The story of Low Order Wavefront Sensing (LOWFS) was everything a AO control theorist could ask for. We got motivation from the 2020 Decadal Survey, multiple novel acronyms, AO diagrams old and new, PSF cleanup simulations, and stunning comparisons between lab and on sky results. Even those of us who saw the on-sky prowess of the LOWFS loop our own eyes were on the edge of our seats as she revealed how quantitatively well it performed our last run.

After the public portion of the talk, everyone but the defendee and the committee were asked politely to “Get out!” We all waited patiently for the committee to decide what we’ve felt for a while, that Avalon has earned the title of a Masters Degree.

(Well, we actually didn’t wait so patiently that we could help ourselves from sneaking a peak to see if they were done yet…)

The Optical Science’s building has glass in unexpected places, which mayhaps should be expected of an optics building

Among Avalon’s many skills is ceremonial un-corking (along with LOWFS-ing, nano-fabrication, hoodie fabrication, cameo printing, and a ccapella do-whops) and we celebrated!

Cheers to Avalon!
Now that’s a grad!

Congratulations Avalon from your MagAO-X family, observing runs and lab time won’t be the same without you. We wish you the best of luck as you go on to be an Astronomer for Draper in Boston! They’re lucky to have you.

Song of the Day

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire

MagAO-X 2023A Day 23: Until the very last photon

This is the time of night an astronomer’s workday would be in full gear, but dear reader, your favorite astronomers are all home or tucked into their LCO beds, dreaming sweet dreams. The MagAO-X team, working 24 hours since you heard from us last, have observed our last target, removed our instrument from the telescope, safely trucked it to the clean room, and started to pack it away for its long trip back home.

The last catwalk sunset
Jay enjoying the last of our Clay dome-openings

In this great relay race, Jared, Sebastian and I were the night team. As the rest of our team hit the hay around midnight, our noble observing efforts were met by some of the worse seeing of the run (after 22B, we do feel lucky to only have one or two nights to complain about, instead of the whole run). Around 1, Jared jinxed us with “At this rate, it’s going to be terrible all night and clear up to 0.5 arc-seconds right before we try to close.” In the great cosmic comedy the universe plays on worn-out astronomers, turns out he couldn’t have been more right:

Hitting 1.5as and 0.5 on the same night…

Seems like LCO weather agrees with my high school track coach, you can’t give up the race right before the finish line. So the night team observed until the sun declared our time up, and only then did we begin the task of shut-down and de-cabling.

The mega monitor, without anything to monitor.

We passed the baton to Laird and Joseph around 8 in the morning, and I’m told that the craning, carting, tethering, trucking and boxing all went well. I can only tell you what I heard because once Jared gave me the all clear, I sleepwalked straight down the hill into bed. Though I was solidly asleep for the rest of the day-time packing work, the successes did not go undocumented:

MagAO-X on the move
aaaannnd…. safe!
Optics: bagged and locked

Right before dinner, when I finally woke up, we were much further along into packing than Jared had feared we would be. Huge thank you the LCO crew who got us off the telescope so quickly, then helped us even more this afternoon to get MagAO-X in its shipping box. After a leisurely meal, the AZ crew headed back to the clean room and started corralling our doodads into the right corners.

Saran wrapping the electronics rack
Cables – managed

We start again bright and early at 8:30am to finish prepping ourselves and the instrument for the long flight to Tucson. Think of us, as we all try the magic trick of switching to a day schedule on a days’ notice.

With things going smoothly, we seem to now have this mythical thing called “free time” and with it the team sneaked in a little wildlife spotting:

Good morning, Guanaco! from Joseph
Farewell, fox family! from Jialin
The noble astrono-vizz

With these fancy new phone cameras, some team members are getting particularly good at the artistic type of astro-photography:

But wait! Where did Jialin and Jay go?? Rumor has it they got out just in time, and are having plenty of good adventuring before their 24hr journey to the US. Travel safe friends! See you Tucson.

Some pre-airport fun

Song of the day:

As we watched the seeing mysteriously dip last night just as we thought about calling it, Jared goes “you know that song, the Wellerman”? To Jared’s surprise and chagrin, I had completely missed the entire TikTok trend of covering this New-Zeland Sea ballad. It became popularized by Scottish singer Nathan Evans around 2021 but the original tune can be tracked back to the 1830s. It loosely follows a Moby Dick-esq narrative of a whaling ship being dragged along by an unattainable whale. Jared goes on to explain that the tantalizing 0.5 arc second seeing is our white whale, dragging us on until the last possible photon. With the night and the run ending, this felt more true than ever.

“The Wellerman” seems like a fitting song of the day, and of course I have heard it, all it took to remember was a quick search. How could I forget it? I love a good folk tune… love a Scottish accent… but wow I love a old sea song! What the conversation with Jared reminded me of is that, though I don’t really care for metal, heavy metal, etc… I LOVE Pirate metal. People yelling in general angst? I’ll pass. People yelling about the high seas? Sign me up. A fellow friend in the AO research field and bassist in their own right introduced me to Alestorm a few years ago, an Scottish band that exclusively does pirate metal. I haven’t gotten to see them in concert… YET, but I take this band as the single most impactful recommendation music-wise I’ve ever gotten. So in honor of our telescopes and how successful this run has been, I’ve picked their song “Magellan’s Expedition” for today.

“Magellan’s Expedition” by Alestorm

As a bonus, here is Alestorm covering “The Wellerman” because of course they did, everyone covered it, even Kids Bop 2022.

“The Wellerman” covered by Alestorm

MagAO-X 2023A Day 12: “Adaptive Optics turned up to 11”

Everything working together

We’re only so many days in and the team has made leaps and bounds during both our engineering and science hours. MagAO-X has all its shiny bits and pieces working in one extreme(ly complicated) and beautiful orchestra.

Our very first PSF of 23A, from Friday

A list of just a few things the team is celebrating:

  • XKIDS first light – Noah’s blog post says it best, but today we were able to take even more exciting long wavelength observations with our inductance imager. Stay tuned for more results from the UC Santa Barbara team
  • lowfs commissioned – Avalon can’t catch a break, everyone wants lowfs on their target! She’s bringing significant flux improvements to the table with her fancy loop. “Dreams really do come true” – Jared, probably
  • PIAA upgrade success– If you couldn’t tell from Warren’s post, his long armed masterpiece has worked amazingly well with hardly a pineapple to be seen. He’s run off to the Chilean beaches, but we can safely say the PIAA trials and tribulations of 22B are a thing of the past.
  • Stellar data! – After the abysmal weather of 22B, even just seeing the stunningly sharp X of a high contrast imager brings joy to our weary souls, plus all the companions we’ve seen so far!
MagAO-X’s new long wavelength extension
LOWFS closed on 37 modes on sky!
Look! Now that’s a companion
Can you see him?

Today Jialin finally joined us! She also had a close call with her layover pre-Santiago flight, and we’re so glad to have her here instead of her being stuck in Huston an extra day. It’s a momentous milestone of the run, she’s our last arrival. From here on out, we’ll just be losing members.

Howdy neighbor!

I know we seem extremely productive, but don’t fret! We haven’t forgotten to enjoy the finer parts of LCO living and loafing.

We’ve been enjoying cleanroom vizzy spotting, a staple of the uphill observatory hike:

One of the two Viscacha’s that have made their home at the ASB
They’re so good.

Joseph brought out his IR camera to find out who’s the hottest in the control room:

Turns out the computers are pretty hot.

Though it ruined our loop, we fell asleep to a fiery sunrise:

“WOW” – me

We always appreciate our TO Jorge and his whimsy:

TO treats

Following direct PI orders, no one forgot about this past empanada Sunday:

A full team’s worth of empanadas

We’ve been teaching the newer team members the finer arts of green flash catching:

We always hold out hope for a flash.

And Laird caught a vizzy at sunset, the best of both worlds:


To top it all off, we got a NYT photographer poking their nose (and drone) around the telescope tonight, so keep an eye out for our very own Avalon to make the front page!

Song of the Day

My chosen song is “From Far Away” from a musician my mother raised me on. Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco but solo performer in his own right, has a voice so distinct it never fails to throw me back to long hot car rides and sleepy backseats. I’ve seen him three times, at a Wilco concert when I was 13 and then more recently twice at a small hole in the wall venue during his yearly winter LA visits. He can sell out stadiums for thousands all over the world but chooses the 200 seat Largo theater to host a weekend of shows in early January. My family went to his show this year, and his opener was none other than Fred Armisen, who spent the 15 minute musician-themed comedy routine parodying acoustic guitarists across the globe, playing a few tunes himself, and of course mocking his good friend Jeff. So please enjoy the soothing sounds of a man I’ve listened to most my life, as you look at our extrasolar companions from far away…

“From Far Away” by Jeff Tweedy

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but here’s my silly family being silly while we waited for the doors to open:

2023A Pre-Run Report: The Food Review

As we wait for the first members of MagAO-X make their way to Chile for 23A, we bring you a holdover over from the 22B run, an extensive review of food at Las Campanas.

When we live up on a mountain for weeks on end with the same folks day-in and day-out, we start to get attached to the little things. You’ve seen us squealing over the animals, fawning over the telescope, but here’s the definitive guide to the favorite snacks of this team of AOistas.

The Meals:

As of the 2022B run, we have been asked to spend the first few days in quarantine, where each meal was delivered to the room of the isolate-ee. After the 3 day quarantine, guests are welcome to join meals in the Lodge’s dining hall.

The Lodge Experience:

Once given access to the lodge—open 24/7, which is of importance to nocturnal types like us—you will gain access to these wonders:

For lunches and dinners, you get a selection of salad items, hot foods, and desserts from the bar.
In addition to fresh food, the dining room fridge boasts a full section of sodas, juices, yogurts, and some desert treats.

Seating arrangements:

When we can, we opt for patio seating, basking in the sun and admiring the telescope-filled view.

Blue Plate Reviews:

The blue trays from the dining hall allow hungry AOistas to haul more plates than they have hands. They’re also grace the front doors of those in quarantine as food gets delivered to them. We’ve collected a gallery of representative meals, although our sample skews vegetarian due to the documenter’s biases.

Special Dinners

Here we recognize dinners that our taste buds remember with particular fondness.

A special U.S. Thanksgiving feast

The exotic U.S. American dish of “hamburguesas”

Chilean specialties:

Though the kitchen accommodates for our American palates, notably adding freedom French fries to their rotation in recent years, some dinners we spend guessing what’s on our plates.

Heart of Palm

A delicate crescent addition to salads, perpetually confused with artichoke hearts, but notably softer and less bitter.

Heart of palm finally caught on camera after many days of discussion.

Mystery fruit (Chilean papaya)

Served like many of the fruits here, in its own bath of fruit juice, the Chilean papaya took a while to properly ID. The buttery yellow treefruit has a rubbery but hollow shell, reminiscent of a starfruit.

The question remains, how to eat?

Midnight Lunches:

When you go to bed at 7am and wake up at 3pm, you miss two of the three meals the kitchen crew is awake for. For our night meals, we fill out a sandwich form, prepped at dinner, and brought to the telescope by our telescope operators. The form asks the hard questions such as: How badly do you need vegetables, really? Are they worth making your sandwich soggy? And how many sandwiches do you think you’ll need to stay awake all night? If two, do you double the same sandwich, or mix it up?

You can also ask for a plate from dinner on the form, though you have to select it long before you know what dinner will be. Be sure to submit the form before the afternoon, or the cooks won’t see it, and you will be one of the sorry astronomers eating cereal all night.

The aluminum wrapped haul.

McLeod’s Sandwich method

Now if you want to enjoy your sandwich to the fullest, might we suggest the Avalon McLeod method for maximum crunch and taste. First, unwrap your sandwich and give it a good crisp up in the toaster oven provided in the observatory kitchen. Next, you’ll want to investigate the condiments, stored just above the teas. Pull the vinegar (which Avalon claims they stock just for her) and pour it into one of the small espresso saucers. Dip your sandwich for each bite for the true Avalon way!

Avalon enjoying her midnight lunch, and educating the rest of us.

Empanada Sunday:

An Institution in and of itself. Laird has been coming to LCO for 15 years and the Empanada Sunday has always been a staple. You either wake up early to catch them at Sunday lunch—difficult for an astronomizer—or you order as many as you can on the sandwich form. For some, this is the highlight of the week. Legends tell of an observer who packed an entire carry-on full of LCO empanadas for her return trip. We’re taking bets on how long it takes for Jared to make the same request.

The cheese empanada option shown with the full sit down lunch spread.
A full observing crew’s worth of empanada snacks

The Observatory Kitchen Experience

Critical to the second half of our food review is knowing the contents and layout of the kitchen we inhabit while observing. It is stocked with all the small things that make overnight working bearable – from drinks to snacks to the infamous block of cheese.


Beverage Options run-down:

We live in an age of abundance. Not only are our dorm rooms stocked with a drip coffee pot, but we also have a full range of cola products in stock. Not to mention the plentiful espresso machines, herbal teas, boxed milk, and powdered coffee. One can afford to be picky with how we quench our thirst on this mountain.

The Caffeine Selections:

We each have our own way of coping with the long hours and late nights. For some of us, that means an intensely emotional connection to the supply of our caffeine. We asked folks about their favorite coffee machines around the mountain.

The Historical

Our predecessor tells of times when we needed to bring our own coffee in instant form. Though we only needed this option during bubble isolation, it is kept here in reverence to it’s historical support of astronomers at Las Campanas.

PIs continue to bring VIA instant

Old Reliable

The first coffee machine you’re met with is a humble drip machine in each room. The room doesn’t always come with complete sets, so some cross-room trading occurred to obtain all desired elements of coffee production.

The in-room support system

La Fancy

Of all the machines we have available to us, the main attraction is La Finca, the automatic espresso machine. From shots to espresso, vanilla and mocha flavorings, it almost makes you forget that you miss Starbucks. Avalon’s recommended mix? One mug of Vanilla Cappuccino, one mug of regular for just the right sweetness. Fits a thermos just about perfect.

We visit La Finca almost every night before heading up the hill.
Avalon mid-pour, loading up before a night of observing.

La Finicky

Though the Experto has a variety of options, Warren has words of support for the smaller, daintier, and more finicky machine at the other end of the dining hall. Notably, we have only been able to get it to make espresso despite it nominally being able to steam milk….

Warren pooh-poohs all other espresso sources at Las Campanas.

The Obs room Coffee machine

“It’s fine.” The machine in the observatory kitchen lacks the bells and whistles of La Fancy and the cult following of La Finicky. Really, the only thing it has going for it is being the only machine in the observatory, and thus, better than Nescafe.

It does its job

Though Nescafe is offered in the kitchen, it was determined to bear no resemblance to coffee nor anything potable for that matter, and disqualified from this list.

The Tea Crowd

For complete historical accuracy, this report would be remiss if it didn’t mention that the team is not all on the coffee train. On any given night the tea kettle sees it’s fair share of action as well.

A dedicated tea enthusiast.

Fortunately for the tea fans, the observer kitchen boasts a wide selection of tea varieties. Notably, most of these are herbal Sebastian tested and ranked the options in the observers lounge.

Tea Ranking

  1. Premium ceylon – The one and only black tea, highly respected by the caffeine deprived
  2. green tea – truly supremo
  3. mint ceylon tea – “mint with some punch”
  4. minta tried and true classic
  5. chamomile – “drinkable, but not the best”
  6. plantain
  7. lemon verbena – tester couldn’t finish the cup, this won’t convince black tea fans on herbal teas
  8. Boldo – “not nice” but widely regarded for its health properties
Tea offerings in order
Our intrepid tea taster Sebastian braving a boldo tasting.

Yerba Mate

Distinctive and separate from the mostly herbal tea collection is the Yerba mate, enjoyed as a national drink. Unfortunately it is a “bring your own filter-straw” establishment.

Warren Reviews: “when forced to drink at a teabag-limited rate, the benefits to mood and caffeine are outweighed by the uniformly horrible taste”

Warren attempts to sample the loose leaf Yerba Mate with a home-made filter.

The Fizzy Alternatives:

One of the blessings of our observer kitchen is the bounty of the Chilean coke products. We each have our own fizzy weakness, and the long nights see many bottles line the tables and walls of our control rooms.

Golden Hour for the fizz
Proof that ll of these beverages are a Chilean special!

The people have spoken, and by a landslide Benidicto’s Bubble water has won as fan favorite fizz. Two honorable mentions go to coke zero for being the actual soda favorite by numbers and Fanta, for having one extremely devoted fan.

The crowd favorite, being appreciated by Joseph


Note, the milks aren’t a particularly popular option as thirst quenchers. Occasionally they will be used for cereal, or espresso dampeners, but most will remain untouched over the duration of our long runs. Boldly going where most astronomers are wise enough to not tread, we tested them all.

The milk lineup
  • Chocolate Milk – “That’s a good chocolate milk right there” It’s a sweet, chocolate forward milk that reminded us of grade school.
  • Skim Milk – “gross” and “looks weird coming out of the straw” it’s somewhat like American skim milk, but with a weird mouth feel, possibly from being shelf stable.
  • Whole Milk – has a “weird mouth feel” with and “off” finish. It’s somewhere between weird coffee creamer and buttery milk.
  • Vanilla – like “flan, if you didn’t jello your flan properly” a very sweet milk drink that gives off more “melted ice cream” energy than proper drink
  • Strawberry – “2/10 gogurts” and “The worst memories of elementary school” This flavoring may smell like strawberries, but its off, overly saccharine and artificial
Least FavoriteStrawberryStrawberrySkimSkimWhole milk
Final rankings from our stalwart testers

Observing snacks:

There are two classes of snacks here on the mountain (1) the provided Chilean fare, and (2) the bring along snacks from friends of the team. Here we summarize and give our reviews.

From friends of the observatory:

We are ever so fortunate to have friends to keep us in their thoughts. Particular shout out to Jhen Lumbres, a group alumni who got us so many snacks for the 22B run that it could have filled its own carry on. We had too many favorites to properly review, but of particular fun were the jelly bags.

Jhen Snacks! We ate through them too quickly to fully capture their bounty.
Alicia snacks, some brought all the way from Korea.
Specially brought Chilean snacks from our TO operator!

Snacks from the Observatory:

Ubiquitous McKay snacks are found all over the observatory campus. The majority of them are of the biscuit variety, mildly sweet and tasty with coffee. We are also provided with a salt-less cookie for cheese pairings, and flaky sweet wafers. Grill, the one salty snack, never makes it longer than a night.

The wide variety of snacks stocked in our kitchen cabinets, rotating stock

Jialin, while tasting through the array found as special for the mystery fruit wafers which some were too intimidated to try.

Jialin Recommends: The Mystery fruit wafers

Jared will recommend you the Triton Oreo knock-offs. They’re not quite the real thing, but up on the mountain will bring joy to consume. He will also be disappointment if we run out.

Jared Recommends: Triton knock off oreos.


Ah the cereals. These are an easy thing to pretend are a meal, and so become a large dietary component of an observer who forgets their sandwich form.

One of many cereal bowls filled during an observing run.
End of run cereal levels

By the end of the run simple visual inspection gave us the teams ranking of the cereal offerings (as no refills were observed during the observation period):

  1. Frosted-like flakes
  2. Chocolate covered chocolate swirls
  3. Mini-wheats
  4. unfrosted flakes

The Cheese

There is one kind of cheese offered on the mountain. This is the cheese you will get as part of your iso deliveries. This is the cheese in the dining hall. And this is the cheese you will find in every snack fridge. It is mild, almost like mozzarella, but holey like Swiss. It pairs wonderfully with crackers.

The cheese seen in its natural habitat.

Rumor has it that this cheese, having become so dear to a group of observers, inspired a cross-telescope heist. The observers, after running out of cheese themselves, ran across the parking lot to snag the unsuspecting loaf from across the way in the Baade kitchen’s fridge.

The cheese, the cheese biodome, and the cheese knife

It turns out that supplying a block of cheese requires a rather substantial knife to slice it. And when you don’t bring your own box cutters for MagAO-X unpacking, the cheese knife will be your next best option.

cheese knife by day, box cutter by night


This food blog could not have been accomplished without the team’s generous help, from picture posing to review requests and poll responses. We hope that this report will demystify the wealth of food options at our favorite observatory.

Blog Rules

Edited to add: I have been informed that as the first post of 2023A, this post needs to set blog rules and have a song of the day.

  1. There must be a post for each day of the run
    (vaguely defined as when the first team member reaches the mountain and until the last team member leaves)
  2. There must be at least one relevant image per post
  3. There must be a song of the day
  4. The song of the day must not repeat, defined as an artist and song paring
    (i.e. if we’ve already posted Queen’s LP version of “Under Pressure,” you cannot post a live version of Queen singing “Under Pressure,” as that’s the same artist performing the same song. You could post ANOTHER artist covering “Under Pressure” as that changes one part of the artist and song pairing)
    a) Edit: This excuses Glee Covers but not the laziness of not reading previous blog posts
  5. *2023A Special* Song citations – each song of the day must be cited by recounting any of the following:
    a) The person who recommended the song to you or
    b) The first time you saw the song performed live, when and where or
    c) The most memorable playing of the song in a major life event (wedding, graduation, memorable party, etc.)
    If there are no personal citations, research must be done into the cultural significance of the song and cite that instead.

Song of the Day

For today’s song I present the song request I made at my first concert, They Might Be Giants playing at the Festival of Tulips in Albany NY in 2006. As a seven year old, I was a huge fan of their children’s album Here Come the ABCs, introduced by my parents. I was also unaware that the band had other, more adult albums. I held up a little cardboard sign for the majority of the concert with an “E eats everything” request. (Unfortunately, they did not play it.) And thus was born my cynicism of concert song requests.

They Might Be Giants – “E Eats Everything”

MagAO-X 2022B Day 23: shhh… they’re sleeping

Our 24 hour MagAO-X clean up effort has just finished up around dinner time. MagAO-X is off of Clay. After sleeping various amounts of not-enough today, the whole team is more than ready for some sweet sweet shut eye. Hopefully now unbothered by nightmares of 2.0 arcsecond seeing or cart assembly.

End of run crew after take down!

The night crew finished up their white dwarf spotting at sunrise, just in time to get to de-cabling on the catwalk. Laird and I, having slept some of the night (as apposed to none), swapped with them to get MagAO-X carted off the platform and back into it’s clean room home. We’re pretty proud about how quickly we got out of their hair! Instrument: moved, cables: piled, and megadesk: disassembled. Don’t ask us about the clean room. Enjoy the photos of the process, knowing that the whole gang is now sleeping soundly as I post:

Night crew on cables
Day crew on cables
Lowering MagAO-X (I made a youtube channel for this I guess)
MagAO-X rolls onto the IZUZU.
Off we go to the clean room!
Road side supervision
Tucked away safe in the cean room.

Tomorrow Laird and Logan head off to La Serena for their USA flights. (They’re good and ready to head home.) Jared, Avalon and I will be hanging around an extra day to tidy up some. The run’s not over till the last of us leave, I guess.

As a bonus, I’ve added some of the 100″ videos I took on the tour with Alycia. (I love telescopes moving almost as much as I love louvers opening.)

The telescope operators moving the telescope.
Telescope operators moving us.

Song of the Day

“Don’t Stop Believin’ “- Covered by Vintage Postmodern Jukebox

Vintage Postmodern Jukebox actually has a bunch of even better covers you can check out, but I have a Song-of-the-day point to make.