CfAO Fall Retreat: high contrast chats in the hills

Hello from Arizonans in California! I just got back from the UC Santa Cruz Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO) Fall retreat, where members of the AO work through some of the pressing problems in the field. This year was focused on High Contrast imaging testbeds, lessons learned from Magellan’s MagAO-X and Subaru’s SCExAO and what might be in the cards for Keck, and a round up of adaptive Secondary progress – LBTO, MMT, and the future of IRTF, KECK, and beyond.

The Arizona Telescopes representing, Me representing MagAO-X (Magellan Clay), Robin and Jacob the Toronto part of MAPS (MMT), and Sam Ragland (LBTO)

Some of the likely suspects were around, namely Jacob and Robin from UToronto representing MMT calibration work and Sam Ragland from LBTO operations. Thanks to a very generous student scholarship from the workshop organizers, I was able to attend and represent MagAO-X’s progress.

If someone had taken a picture of me presenting, it would look a little like this.

Sam’s update on the LBT’s progress was some of the most concrete work concerning a long-term Facility adaptive secondary, in this case using adOptica technology. Sam discussed the re-coating of the secondary, and future plans, including adopting an ASM from CHile, close to this group’s heart.

Sam Ragland giving an update talk on LBTO’s work with Adaptive Secondaries.

Jacob got the longest student talk of the conference, and got to spend an hour discussing his method for calibrating on sky. A key difference between the LBTO and other telescopes discussed being that LBTO is a Gregorian design with an intermediate focus that allows for daytime calibrations of their secondary. MAPS and systems like IRTF and Keck are Cassegrain design with no focuses before the primary, and can only take calibration matrices on a bright star on sky. Making the operating software and calibration procedure robust in the meantime is a huge step towards making these systems reliable and facility class.

Jacob Taylor presenting on one method MAPS uses for on sky calibrations.

We also got one last GMT talk from Antonin, who has recently moved from his role on GMT to the AO scientist for the Keck twin 10ms. He gave an update on the current design of the GMT adaptive secondaries, which will be using a similar technology to what’s currently on LBT. In fact, we learned that the rigorous modeling and testing on the GMT prototypes solved a resonance issue that LBT had unexplained.

Antonin Bouchez reprising his past role of GMT AO lead to talk about advancements in the GMT secondary design. He has recently accepted an AO position at Keck.

I cannot express how grateful I am to have a community that shares and collaborates as this one does. Even though MagAO-X is already built, there’s a lot to learn from the discussions that Keck is having about their own testbed. As in, what areas of interest are already met by our technology? What new avenues are being pursued? And where do all fit in the the US high contrast family?

Took a quick break to see the hills of Santa Cruz

Thank you to everyone who made this conference so fruitful! And to the organizing committee for the student scholarship.

Conference participant photo, filtered by who stayed till Sunday.

Song of the Day

Berkeley Girl by Harper Simon

GMT: The 7th segment is in the oven!

This past weekend, the MagAO-X team got to take part in a historic event, the casting of the 7th and final GMT segment! The Giant Magellan Telescope is made up of 7th petal-like segments, and the Mirror Lab—a facility on the University of Arizona campus—is the only place in the world that can make them. These 8.4-meter segments have been in production for decades now, and this weekend the final one has started the 6 month journey of melting glass in the 5-rpm rotating furnace, until it cools to a room-temperature parabola. On Saturday the furnace reached its peak temperature, and from there it begins to cool. Interested parties, donors, and investors gathered to celebrate this milestone for the GMT.

On Friday and Saturday, some of the MagAO-X team helped the mirror lab staff give tours. Jialin and I have been training as tour guides for the last few months, Jared’s been doing it since his grad days, and Maggie was there as a GMagAO-X expert. First stop on the tour is the main attraction, the Furnace Room!

The GMT Segment melting in the spinning furnace.

The furnace is actually two levels, with the lower level focused on controls and system monitoring. You can see the large holder where the mirror segment will be hosed out.

Second view of the spinning furnace.
Ohara glass, what goes into the furnace.

The furnace room was hot! You could feel the difference in the oven heating just between Friday and its peak on Saturday. The next room over, where mirrors are ground and polished, is noticeably cooler than the first room. It’s kept at a constant temperature so that there’s no expansion of the glass as it’s brought to nanometers of the specified shape.

Polishing a 6.5m mirror.

Past the polishing room is the integration room, where GMT mirrors are stored in between their different stages of production. One of them, covered in blue, is actually on it’s way to being stored off site! Others are upside down, as they need their actuated backs attached, and so on. This set up is affectionately called the “CD Switcher”.

CD switcher with 3 different GMT segments.
A mirror almost ready to ship!

The three of us were stationed at the end of the tour in the integration room. This isn’t usually a stop on public tours, but it was opened up for the festivities. We got the honor of explaining how excited we are to do the science that the Giant Magellan telescope is built to do!

Prepping the talks and setting up the posters.

In the marching order, I was first! I introduced what MagAO-X is (an extreme AO instrument directly imaging exoplanets on the Magellan Clay telescope) and explained some of the basics of AO.

Me showing MagAO-X in action.

Next was Jialin, talking about the exciting science we get to do with MagAO-X, and the motivation for wanting to make our pretty pictures even prettier.

Jialin explaining what exactly is so cool about H-alpha acreating proto-planets.

Maggie then got to talk about the plans for GMagAO-X! Her work on HCAT, where we’ve done phasing development in lab, is a huge step forward in the feasibility of the project. She got to show the visitors what a GMT pupil would look like.

Maggie explaining the phasing problem in the next generation of ELTs

Finally, Jared got to talk about his favorite planet. Not caught in action, but by the end of his talk, everyone in the audience was thoroughly convinced of the impact that GMagAO-X will make on the exoplanets we love.

Jared prepping his slides, finding the best fake image of Prox-Cen B.

Hanging out with giant mirrors and speaking on the projects we work on was a huge honor! We hope to get to be back when they pull the mirror out of the furnace in March, and for plenty of tours in between.

The team after all the mirror lab tour madness.

Bonus Video:

The team talking about the GMT in an interview recently! This was shown to some of the guests this weekend, and will be around Steward for a while, I’m sure.

MAPS Sep. 2023B Night 4: An interview with the team

Dear readers, we have no science news to report. It has been windy and has stayed windy, with a fresh splash of humid to boot. So unfortunately, we do not have new science content to report. The experts have already shared their knowledge of some of the instrument’s background so tonight we’ll take the time to get to know our fellow crew mates better.

First we’ll speak with returning costar, Amali Vaz, working hard in the AO Operator’s seat. She’s a jack of all trades, being well versed in the mirror and its moods, ASMs of times gone past, and now the new CACAO wrangler.

Q: What’s your favorite button to push?

A: Hmm now that’s a good question. It’s gotta be the space bar. I read somewhere the joke ‘ I keep pressing the space bar but I’m still here on earth, and I still think about that?

Q: What’s your biggest area of improvement?

A: Jared says he can’t hear when I push buttons, so I guess hitting the keys harder.

Q: What’s your favorite book

A: Station 11. It does a weird mix of scifi and post-appocalypse with an emphasis on art.It’s a very elegantly structured book, as well as a good story.

Q: Stranded on a desert island with only one of your crafts, which would you choose?

A: Wood carving knives

Pictured: Amali, humoring me.

Next we speak to Robin, a core member of the the Canadian team, and DOCRIMES Agent, about some poignant and topical questions. Robin is a grad student from Toronto and keeps trying to wear shorts in this sub 70s weather.

Q: What are you excited about for the future of MAPS?

A: Good weather. Getting back on sky.

Q: What’s your favorite day of the crossword?

A: Thursday. It’s always got a little trick to it.

Q: How would you describe grad school?

A: No comment.

Q: What’s your favorite Trader Joe’s snack?

A: Chicago mix, but they don’t have it anymore. This run, easy choice, the leaf chips. They were good, and fun!

Q: How would you describe Jacob.

A:Tall. Complex. Shortily challenged.

Pictured, some of the many Trader Joes snack table options.

Now talking to Jacob, who is more than just his height. He’s been on the team for the last four or so years as a grad student at Toronto, initially working on the IR WFS (That we’re very excited to use).

Q: What are you excited about for the future of MAPS?

A: Can you just write ‘Aliens, Question Mark?’

Q: Would you rather take on an angry Frenchman or a disappointed Canadian?

A: Well I’ve already taken on an angry frenchmen. But if Quebec, no way. But a disappointment Canadian is a lot of emotional labor. Like if you disappoint your grandma, that’s hard.

Q: Favorite astronomy acronym?

A: Well it has to be the one I came up with. ESCAPE, which is when you combine DOCRIMES and SPRINTING.

Q: How would you describe Robin?

A: A cartoon character, like a sly rabbit, but not bugs bunny. Wait but maybe Bugs Bunny. It’s the sarcasm.

Enough said.

Next is Manny. He’s one of our fearless leaders and has been on the last half dozen or so of the last MAPS runs. He is gracious with his supply of fizzy water and doles out moka pot offerings when the night starts to get rough.

Q: What is the historical trendline of your fizzy water intake?

A: Usually bring two cases of 12, but this time I brought 3. I usually run out. For MAPS? I always bring fizzy water.

Q: What’s the hardest part of your job?

A: The hardest part is managing people and many projects.

CROWD COMMENT: But that’s the whole job.

A: So yes, the whole job.

Q: What’s your favorite telescope you’ve worked at?

A: I’ve been to two, no three. I would say that MMT is my favorite. It’s closer to home, and feels homey. We have fewer bares

Q: What animals have you seen on the mountain? Please rank from ‘would pet’ to ‘would run away from’?

A: I haven’t wanted to pet any of them. In ordering from most to least pet-able. Mouse. Rat. Squirrel. Quattie. Turkey. Ring tailed cat. Deer. Bobcat. Bear. Mountain lion. Rattle snake. Helomonster.

COMMENT: Manny goes on to show us many pictures of animals hes’s seen.

This picture depicts some the good care Manny takes to keep us caffeinated.

Next up, the MAPS PI Katie! She is an Astronomer at Steward Observatory and comes from a long legacy of AO work. Watch out for her revolutionary new pet program at the MMTO coming.

Q: What’s your favorite project you’ve PI’ed for and why is it MAPS?

A: It’s MAPs because it’s so many things and that’s what makes it fun. There are so many different parts to it.

Q: What’s the most overblown but technically true statement you can make about the progress of this project (for funding reasons)?

A: MAPS is attempting to do the most number of things that are all related to Exoplanets. It’s all of the different kinds of planets, spectral resolutions. But we’re not galaxies. We’re not doing wide field yet. We’re doing all kinds of exoplanets and all kinds of science with them, imaging, mid resolution spectroscopy, high resolution spectroscopy, without having to be the highest order AO.

COMMENT: We’re the little AO system that could!

Q: You can only take one… Lynx or Ginger? (to the telescope)

A: “Well Ginger is my cat and Lynx is Jared’s , but they have switched allegiances. Last time I went to the telescope actually, so we’ll see when we go back. But for now, I’d say Lynx, he’s very good at advising grad students, he has a lot of opinions about plots. He’s shy at first but would warm up to the control room and walk over some keyboards. Maybe that’ll be the right button we need. AND! He actually snuggles, so a good telescope buddy.”

Q: What ply of toilet paper do you prefer for your laptop stands? Does MMTO meet the quality specifications?

A: For my laptop stand I require uniform material of abundance quantities. MY first night here I searched the facilities and this was the materials that meet my needs.

The Laptop stand in question.

Grant, who has been working on MAPS since re-aluminizing the secondary in 2018 (5 years ago) is a key member of the ‘Field trip!’ duo. He helps keeps our alignment in check throughout the night and sometimes trouble shoots from a very high forklift.

Q: What’s been your biggest success on the project so far?

A: The wavefront sensor board. Designing, aligning, and keeping the whole system from falling apart. This was the first WFS board I’ve worked on. How do I keep it from falling off the telescope? Use bigger bolts, and way more than you think you need.

Q: If you had to rename MAPS, what would you rename it?

A: What does MAPS even mean? MMTAO… something? Well we’re basically a big wind measurement devices. MMT AneMometer. So MAM’

Q:”What’s your one must-bring for observing runs?”

A: French Press, that’s been keeping me alive. I’m a novice, so this is my first actual ground coffee that I’ve done. I haven’t always been a coffee person, it really started last year.

COMMENT: this is coincidentally coincides with Grant starting on Observing runs.

Q: Have you worked at any other telescopes? How would you rate their comfy chairs?

I don’t get to sit at any comfy chairs at LBT… sometimes I get to sit on the couches. But the chairs here really have them beat

COMMENT: We leave Grant to enjoy his comfy chair in peace.

A picture from Grant of the ASM re-aluminization from back in 2018.

Finally Jared Males, self proclaimed “I’m just the software guy”. He has been a notable member of many AO teams in the past, and has already made many a git push for MAPS.

Q: What’s your favorite part of an instrument project’s lifecycle, having commissioned and worked on a few at this point?

A: First light. The first time you take it to the telescope and you get starlight into it.

Q: When would you eat the watermelon?

A: I would want to see an airy ring.

Q: What’s your software hottest take?

A: Writing software is a real professional skill. TOo many people just learn enough to get a plot made or whatever. You don’t do that with say, lens design. We don’t teach software like a real technical skill. A lot of people live with real technical debt because they don’t understand their software.

Q: You can only take one… Lynx or Ginger? (to the telescope)

A: Lynx. …. I was in Chile for too long one time, and Ginger abandoned me. I have never been forgiven.

Q: If Olivier was your brother, would he be your older or younger brother?

A: Definitely older, even though I am chronologically older than I am. Professionally he is more experienced. He’s generally thought of things before I’ve thought of it.

Q: If you could script people like you would script cacao, what’s the first shared memory stream you would write?

A: That’s an interesting Question. I would would cause them to listen to the semaphores in my shared memory so that they (my grad students) would instantly do what I wanted.

COMMENT: This seemed like a pointed answer. The interviewer will be returning to work.

The two cats in question, Ginger and Lynx.

Thank you for tuning in to tonight blog! Hopefully the MAPS team will return tomorrow with more science-focused content.

Song of the day:

Inspired by my current most common activity of sitting, and slow musical chairs, I present Sitting.

AO4ELT7 Days 2 to 5: Go Team!

Hello, it’s me again. For various reasons, more senior members are not available for extended comments on AO4ELT. (Notably either enjoying France or other vacation escapades.) So to keep Joseph from shutting down the blog in disappointment, here’s another Eden recap of a French conference.

Lecture Hall picture courtesy of Arnaud

Day 2: WFS, DMs, and phasing – Oh my!

How do you get a gainfully employed post doc to arrive on time to an 8:30am conference start time? You make him the session chair. Maggie and I might have been a liiiiittle late to the invited speaker, Roberto Ragazzoni, the origin of pyramid WFSs, gave an engaging talk on the 27 OTHER WFS designs he’s dreamed up over the years.

The DM vendors gave their talks the second day as well, and it was nice to hear someone outside the team bragging about us for a change.

Thanks BMC for the shout out!

Just to prove their point and show how to use a BMC DM in a truly extreme AO system, Laird followed up with our GMagAO-X

HCAT design overview, waterwheel and all.
Photo credit Guido.

We concluded the day with dinner in the very same halls the palace of old used to dine in. Whats more, they gave us a light show of projectors to display the hall in its different eras. Rumor has it Jared has a video of the light shows, even though he prefers the hall in its more natural lighting.

The 300 of us filled out the dining hall quite well!
Someone is not amused

In true french fashion, this dinner took around 4 hours and multiple bottles of wine. Sebastiaan did not eat the offered cheese.

Day 3: XWCL past present and future

Wednesday, midway through our conference days, we had our largest number of XWCL talks yet! Especially if you include the once and future lab members. We started with Lauren Schatz, recently graduated and now a critical member of space force, give her invited talk on LASSIE – Laser guide Star Sensor Integrated Extreme adaptive optics.

How do you make extreme AO cooler? Add lasers.
Image credits to Guido.

Sebastiaan Haffert, current group postdoc, gave the first talk of the evening session, with a hot-off-the-press presentation on more novel WFS designs.

Listen up, he put on a button down for this.

What you might not know is that he finished the last simulation mere minutes before we had to turn in our slides:

Upon successful completing on the last plot.

We then got to see a future XWCL-er, Josh Lieberman, present on his implementation of iEFC with the KPIC instrument/testbed. We’re so excited to have Josh be a part of our group next spring!

KPIC works with coupled planet light, making speckle nulling that much more important.

Last of the day, bringing up the other half of the MagAO-X sandwich, was me! I got to give my talk on my sparkles work that I took on over the last year. Having multiple people I cite in the crowd was new, usually I have to fight to get people to care about optical gain. This talk I got good feedback and even more to think about once I’m back.

Dr. Joseph long and his rendering abilities there with us in spirit.

After surviving the stress of presenting to some of the most knowledgible people in the field, we all relaxed by having cocktails on the Bridge of Avignon, courtesy of First Light and ALPAO. It was something special to see the bridge in such beautiful golden light.

I can see the conference room from here!

Day 4: Last talk!

Jared, giving the invited mid-morning talk, finished up the MagAO-X talks with an overview of what it’ll take to get us to the contrast of the planets we care about, and what MagAO-X is doing to get us there. Of course the whole team sat close to be sure to show our support. We weren’t the only ones who liked Jared’s talk though, younger scientists later reported it to be very accessible, which is a win among some of the other update talks we listened to.

Our fearless leader presents the MagAO-X update
You become a PI to guarantee audiences to your talk, right?

During the coffee break, we finally got our group photo! Feels good to know our group did so well. “Go Team!” – Jared

Our whole team got the chance to present! And we did pretty darn good.

We also had some of our friends from MAPs present later in the day, (see Joseph’s and I’s MAPS posts last month to see this group photo in full color). Jacob gave voice to the struggles that adaptive secondaries and bad weather can can give observers. The next MAPS talk will get to be much more triumphant though, I can feel it.

Jacob on MAPS and trauma bonding.

Some of the best parts of this conference happen when you aren’t last minute cramming for your talk and you can just appreciate the good company of your science peers. Cheers to the Arizona team!

Cheers to the presenters!
Serious beer for serious scientists.

Day 5: We all gave our talks, what do you mean there’s more conference?

Even after we finished XWCL talks, turns out there were still things to stick around for! Sarcasm aside, the last day of the conference wasn’t one to miss, with plenty of atmospheric simulations to go around. Plus, we got a free tour of the Papal Palais with our badge!

All too soon though, it was over. Personally, I got so much from being around this international group of instrumentalists! After being inspired and motivated by all the various project people have been working on, I know I have a lot more too look forward in the rest of my PhD.

Conference Group Photo!

Farewell France! Thank you for treating us so well.

Last views of the southern countryside after we all scatter on Saturday.

Song of the Days

Putting respect on the Avignon name with:

“Bridge of Avignon” in English and French by Barney and crew

AO4ELT7 Days -5 to -2: The CDI Prologue, AO-istas in France

First stop after the plane, because how else will the people know we’re in Paris?

This is the prologue to the long sweaty conference the XWCL team will be spending in Avignon, in which some of us spend a shorter but just as sweaty time at a workshop in Paris. (There is a heatwave here, and it’s humid, and the desert kid in me is struggling to adapt.). Last year Sebastian, having good ideas as he does, collaborated with other high contrast imaging folks to think up a workshop on Coherence Differential Imaging, or CDI. As the whole point was to entice the next generation of instrumentalists with the siren song of coherent starlight subtraction in control and post processing, I was an easy target to convince to attend. Jared, having never been to Paris before, was also more than willing to spend a few days in the discussion. So here we are, tourists in a world-dominant optics hub.

Day -4: What is CDI again?

“The Castle” – Observatory de Paris, Muedon

The first day of our CDI journey gave us a late start and a delightful Uber driver, who not only saved us from walking up a long hill to the conference location, but also regaled us with a deep dive into just how bad the drivers there really are.

We found that big tower again from the suburbs.

The Observatory itself was nestled overlooking over the city from it’s Parisian suburb, magnificent among the larger park and woods that presumably came with the original estate.

Overview talks included the Self Coherent Camera (SCC) design.

We started the day with a series of very helpful overview talks, in which I rapidly went from not even really knowing what CDI stood for to appreciating cutting edge efforts to use the coherent properties of starlight with our high contrast systems. Barnaby Norris, Sarah Stieger, Axel Potier, and William Thompson should be commended on how much effort they put into the breadth and depths of their review talks. If you had listened closely, over the birds and the beatific breeze, you would have heard my brain expand three sizes in just an hour.

Pastries for thought.

Almost as helpful as the actual programming were our extended coffee breaks, catching up and floating ideas with some of the leading experts in the field amid delicious pastries. It’s a good reminder that no matter how deep in the trenches I am with my little calibration codes, plenty of my colleagues in the field are right there beside me, banging their heads against similar walls.

Gratuitous pictures of snack tarts and our struggles with slicing them.

At the end of the day we snuck in a little solar observing in an H-alpha filter. What a welcome sight to see the small saguaro on the solar telescope, designed and built by Lunt Solar Aystems in Tucson Arizona! With that petite piece of home, this place started to feel familiar.

With just this little guy we saw stellar prominences in great detail.

Day -3: Discussions and downpour

We did ask Sebastiaan if he wanted an umbrella…

Our second day was focused on hands-on teamwork exercises, which the MagAO-X team prepped for with the team exercise of figuring out how to get on the train, in the rain, from the wrong end of the station. It made us miss our chatty uber driver, especially with the quarter-mile hill treck from the train station to the workshop. Sweaty and drenched and a little dazed, we quickly got into our day of working through simulations and practical implementations of CDI algorithms and architectures.

a quick look into the wavefront correction on THD2 – To the left, the pupil, and to the center the PSF

One of our hands-on notebook experiences allowed us to play with the test bench right here in Paris. Their team has done great work to show a possible use case for AO telemetry, and in some of them we were even able to use their complex coronographic phase mask to pull out the planet!

Using a model of the THD2 test bench and well-calibrated telemetry to reconstruct a PSF, and a planet!

After the day wrapped up, and to much nicer weather, Vincent Deo, a Paris local, walked us through the Meudon streets to a delightful sidewalk restaurant. There, discussions continued, though perhaps on much sillier topics, over wine and Belgian Beers and Charcuterie.

Cheers to charcuterie

Meanwhile… word has reached us that the Space Force AO4ELT contingent has arrived on the other side of France …

Day -2: Reflect, Revise, Repeat (in 2-3 years?)

Sebastiaan and I finally made our train, and made it to the workshop mostly on time

And before you know it its over. We wrapped up our discussions on the final day, summarizing our progress, thoughts, and future projects to the rest of the attendees. It was required that the students do the talking, and because of that the final presentations had much fresher face than the introductory ones. It did feel like

Thank you to our LOC and SOC for being such wonderful hosts!

Of course, for all we’re learned, it was also a treat to be able to see another world center for astronomy, and another old telescope. Though this site is mostly for solar observing in the modern day, it has a history of observing that you can feel wandering the halls.

The original Lyot Coronograph

Finally, we finished this productive and educational tour de force with a very french dinner. More cheese, duck, and good friends from California and Australia.

Everyone but XWCL looks good in this picture, so I guess we’ll use it.

See you all soon in Avignon!

Song of the Day(s):

Blog Rules for the french trip: Every post should use at least one french word, have a song of the day, and be tied to a memory of the trip.

Summer Breeze by The Main Ingredient

The streets of Meudon were perfumed by the many jasmine bushes, wafting along a puff of breeze. I can understand why they’d want to host a workshop out there.