MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 6: The longest day

Do you have what it takes to be the next great AO operator? Well today is the day that tests your mettle. Starting as bright an early as our crane operators will let us, we do a little bit of everything this 24hr shift. We pack, we crane, we unpack, we unwrap, we level, we cable, and at the very end of it all we finally get to do a little bit of why we’re here: astronomy.

The day started out with the projects greatest fiend, the cart. We build it around the table to help it roll from truck to the telescope. Every time we assemble and disassemble this 200lb or so beast, we grow closer as a team. And perhaps ever more resentful of it. The instrument and legs arrive separately at the telescope, after getting separated at this clean room lifting step. We make sure all these moves are safe by applying tension to big items to make them go slow.

Keeping MagAO-X safe, one arm workout at a time.

Next the PI takes a nice long walk with his million dollar baby up the hill. The rest of us know it’s best to let them have their space.

While the flatbed makes its slow ascent, the rest of the team prepares the platform and tools to make ready for its arrival.

MagAO-X returns to Clay after almost exactly a year! (2023A finished on March 17th, and we brought it back on March 18th 2024)
Wheeling the instrument to the scissor elevator.
Going up!

Once the instrument is in the telescope dome, there’s a set of reverse craning and anti-cart activities that need to quickly happen. Good thing we’re getting good at this. As long as we follow Laird’s carefully labeled baggies, we don’t go too wrong.

De-carting is at least a 3 person activity.

Juan and the guys went back to get our electronics while Maggie lead the table team in the fine grained work of leveling a two ton floating table. Maggie might just need to be our Laird on the May run, and under her guidance we leveled the table in record time!

The electronics rack gets its ride up, and is placed next to the table, and then we can start recabling all the things we unplugged just last night. It’s a big dejavu moment. By dinner, we have all but one DM connected. (We still eat fast though, because the less on sky time we waste, the better. )

Cabling, but this time, at even more altitude.

Meanwhile, our astronomer heavy contingent started to make their way out here. Out of three who were supposed to arrive today, only Jay made it, for a various calamitous reasons. Logan got all the way to La Serena, and will be joining us later this week. If all goes well, Jialin will make all the connections she needs and will be here by tomorrow.

Two more of us making it out of Tucson.

Dinner was quick, and we all raced back up the mountain to finish the last little bits. Since it’s our observing night, we finally got to claim the observer-reserved speedy red automatic. Now that all our cars aren’t manual, we aren’t limited by who can drive stick. Happy to report that no one even screamed as I took my first drive up the mountain!

Two cozy cleanroom Vizzies we spotted on our way up!

The final mad dash of cabling and clean up wasn’t captured, but rest easy, we once again worked a small miracle and got the instrument science ready on the platform. We even got our first sunset picture on the catwalk with nearly the whole team.

The first catwalk sunset, nearly everyone made it.
Logan might be in La Serena, but she did not miss the sunset.

Once the sun went down, we finally got to an open dome and down to science.

The team assembles for the excitement of the system getting online.

First up was commissioning some of the newest of our DM technology. These alignment patterns were made fairly recently by members of the lab to test our DM actuators on the light from the pupil.

After making sure everything was working, we returned to our old friend, pi Pup. This bright double star system is one of our favorites because it’s companion is bright enough to be seen as soon as we close the AO loop.

Z band, visible light, closed loop image on sky. The companion is on the left of the image, right next to one of the DM speckles. This image is about 0.74 Strehl.

We were lucky that in our first hours of engineering, we got solid and steady 0.5 arcsecond seeing. We were able to capture some great footage of MagAO-X in action. Below, you can see in real time how turning on the AO system gets us from a blob to a stellar PSF.

The Jared-cam, all four screens of our megadesk, closing the loop on pipup.

In another commissioning victory, we got FDPR working on sky with the NCPC DM. This technique probes phase and amplitude with defocus to reduce our non-common path errors. With our first round of testing, we were able to improve our SR from 0.77 to 0.86 with our rough calculations. (In case these numbers mean nothing to you, we were very pleased with our 0.63 last time, 0.77 got Jared smiling, and 0.86 nearly knocked our stinky socks off.)

FDPR (Focus diversity Phase Retrieval) initial results.

And with those victories, it was on to science. Katie got an hour or so to test ADC algorithms with Sebastiaan, and Jared tested some binning code. Both projects need a little more debugging time, and so we’ll probably revisit them later this week. We got back on sky for Sebastiaan’s target just in time for the seeing to explode.

We went from a 0.5 as night to a 1.5 as one way too quickly…

Sadly, this weather isn’t the kind our instrument was made to operate in, so in the late hours of our very long day, we gave up on scince targets and I got to sneak in a few more engineering tests. (Things have to be pretty hopeless for the team to let me test optical gain unchecked.) The team trickled down the mountain in twos and threes as we finally ran out of steam from our very big, very hard, way too long day.

But don’t let the ending spoil the fact that we just managed a miracle. We got from a truck to a beautiful, record breaking PSF in less than 24 hours. We have only had one night, and are already proving the robustness of algorithms that we weren’t even sure were going to work on sky. Plus, two new group members, Josh and Katie, survived one of the hardest days we go through. Congratulations team!

Song of the day:

How could I not pick this song for the first night of the run?

First Light – Hozier
a peaceful and unbothered Guanaco to end the day.

MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 1: It lives!

The sun rising on a day of unpacking.

Is there anything more tantalizing than an fresh, unopened box of MagAO-X? This team just couldn’t resist. The unpacking festivities started at the first call of the returning night shift astronomers and did not finish until our good friend Orion had completely risen.

The very first gift of the day was an early morning Carlos Culpeo spotted by a Josh who’s sleep schedule hasn’t quite agreed with all the travel yet. This curious fox was later spotted at lunch, and we hope he becomes a regular.

After a reviving breakfast of the highest LCO standards, we shuttled up to the clean room and got to work on our hard hat activities. This includes the reverse of everything we did in Tucson (see Logan’s packing video) but enjoy these snapshots of cranes and dollys and etc. to jog your memory.

Geared up and ready!
Getting the instrument box in position.
The bolts are taken off the door.
Door is taken off the box.
Now we de-box the box.
MagAO-X freed and in good shape!
aaaand all the bolts had to go right back on the empty shipping box.

We were so fast and efficient, we had time to catch another fan favorite, Gary, who wandered up to the parking lot to check on what we were up to.

With another good animal omen bestowed upon us, and lunch in our stomachs, we got back to work freeing the electronics box from it’s larger, wooden box. Don’t try this at home kids, these are advanced crane moves best performed with at some two professionals and at least four grad students standing around in hard hats, looking anxious.

Workplace briefing with a view.
Grad student stabilization.

And all of a sudden, MagAO-X was out of it’s box and in the clean room, and it was only 3pm! Every time, it seems like we do it faster. Even our crane operator Juan was surprised. About at that time we all were ready for some caffine, and a break from hard hats.

The much needed 4pm coffee break

Woof. What a blog post. We’ve unpacked it, so we must be done, right? What, we still need to set up the clean room? You mean we’re only halfway through? Well… if this blog post is long, it’s only because you’re right there in it with us.

Before we could do anything else, the clean room had to get… actually clean. The youngest and spry-est of us took on the challenge. Special recognition to Katie for surviving the fumes of the glass cleaner long enough to finish the clean room mopping.

And still, everything looks alright!

Once Laird arrived, some initial optical inspection occurred! Welcome Laird! Turns out you can only do so much without the cameras on to tell you what’s misaligned, so the real alignment will have to wait for tomorrow.

We ran into some unexpected traffic on our way back up to the cleanroom from dinner at the lodge:

Once we were finally clear, we finished up with the nitty gritty of glycol and cabling

Checking that there are no leaks, and the coolant is running smoothly.
Passing on re-cabling secrets to the next generation.

The good news? ITS ALIVE. All of the computers have turned on, the new GPUS hare happily chugging along, and we are ready for the DM cabling and alignment tomorrow. If you made it this far, congratulations, you have gotten through what will probably be our second longest day of the run.

Wow, does it feel good to be back.

Song of the day

Maggie says we gotta have some nature? Here’s a cool condor shot I took today!

And in his majestic honor, the song of the day:

I, Carrion (Icarian) by Hozier

GMagAO-X’s first PDR

Maggie giving her HCAT talk, overviewing phasing on the testbed.

GMagAO-X just hit another big milestone, we just finished up its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). If you haven’t been to one before, a PDR is a chance for a design to be critiqued and tweaked before moving on. If a project does well on its PDR, it’ll have good reason to be funded and moved to its next phase, the Final Design Review (FDR). If the committee finds it needs more work, an instrument might have another PDR in its future (this has happened to a few other ELT instruments).

Our hope is that GMagAO-X becomes a first light instrument at the GMT, and the PDR is a huge first step.

A huge thanks to the committee members who made their way to Tucson to give their expertise to the exercise:

  • Antonin Bouchez (who previously worked with GMT AO, and now is the director of AO at Keck)
  • Dimitri Mawet (PI for KPIC, the High contrast fiber fed instrument at Caltech)
  • Mike Bottom (UHawaii)
  • Markus Kasper (ESO)
  • Alan Uomoto (Carnegie Observatory)

The two days were filled with talks about everything from science motivation, to optical design, to predicted schedule and budgeting. We got to do it all in Steward’s historic dome, specially outfitted for the experience.

Jared pointing

Since we had them out here in Tucson, the festivities got to include gadgets like a to scale model of of the GMagAO-X design, a non-functional 3K like the ones planned on in the design, and the patented optical locking clamp. Maggie also got a chance to show off the HCAT bench, for some hands on learning.

The 3D printed instrument, it rotates!
Hop clamp inspecting.
Maggie demoing the HCAT bench.

This was also a good chance for the rest of the team to catch up on where the GMagAO-X project is at.

Miscellaneous grad student attendees.

Thank you again to all the people who put in the work to pull the two days of review together, the committee for their attention and helpful comments. GmagAO-X is a stronger instrument because of the PDR!

Song of the Day

Dream On by Aerosmith

Goodbye Logan Noodle & BBQ party

[We love Logan but we aren’t always great at getting Blog posts out :S ]

Editor’s note: This blog post was left in “draft” status for eight months, and Logan is long since back in Tucson, but its contents are too important to leave unpublished. The management regrets this delay.

Song of the Day

“Things Still Left To Say” – Mal Blum

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