MagAO-X 2023A Day 19: An Ode to the Small Things

There are a few hiccups to expect on a night-to-night basis, but in general at this point we’re pretty fine-tuned to the MagAO-X workflow. This means there has been more opportunities to enjoy the finer details of #LifeatLCO before and after our shifts. From going viscacha family spotting on the rocky ridge next to the Magellan telescopes…

Can you see the viscacha on its rock?

…to taking neat synthwave/outrun inspired photos at sunset and twilight. Being my first time here at LCO, it’s a pleasant surprise that this place isn’t *just* a bunch of old telescopes in an extremely arid desert. Actually, not only are the accommodations really nice but the food is also pretty memorable too. If you missed it, check out Eden’s food blog post here. But apart from the nice rooms and good food, I’m happy to see some thought put into various amenities to make life here a lot more bearable.

For instance, there’s plenty of space to exercise and even a well-equipped gym near our rooms to help offset the sedentary nature of astronomizing. I also probably speak for the students among us still taking demanding optics and astro classes when I say that the lodge and astronomer support buildings have super nice libraries and areas to study/read/work.

But back to the telescopes! We were all sad to say our farewells tonight to Dr. Alycia Weinberger (it was nice to finally meet you in person, btw!) because she, in addition to bringing us many tasty snacks, brought a great aura to the control room and we all enjoyed hearing about her colorful experiences over the years here at LCO. She also graciously brought the interested among us to tour the Irénée du Pont and Swope telescope installations. Jialin, Noah and I were captivated by the rich history contained within these buildings and got to see some seriously cool old school machines, astro almanacs, and photographic plates. Thanks again, Alycia!

Of course, nothing beats the Magellan telescopes in terms of splendor but it was still really cool to see how smaller, older telescopes still contribute significantly to science. One evening, seeing estimates from the DIMM and our sister telescope the Baade varied significantly which prompted the idea to go straight to the Baade telescope control system and look for ourselves to see if the online reports were accurate. It then dawned on me and Eden was that we had never seen what is was like in our sister telescope…! So, utilizing the cover of night, we executed a bit of a spy mission to see if the grass was greener or not. Dude, they have a full size fridge, bookshelves filled with actual books, and their living room is way cozier with barely-used furniture, what’s up with that?

I also can’t ignore the times when we have the opportunity to take a break and let MagAO-X do all the heavy lifting for a bit. Although this may come off as us being lazy, rest assured it’s a sign that things are going incredibly well for science.

…if ya got ’em

Song of the Day

Back when I was just a crouton in a wide-open baguette world, I went for glory cooking professionally for a few years before deciding to go back to college and pursue a more technical career. Back then, one summerly tradition was to go with a large group of Arizona chefs to cook for a 3-week long event at a resort deep in the NorCal redwoods for members of the infamous and secretive Bohemian Grove. We Arizonan chefs went to chase those California wages and sweet overtime pay (…aaaand that juicy double-overtime pay for the inevitable 12+ hour days) so in a way, our long hours of observing and the remoteness here at LCO reminds me of my Grove days. Every year, we joined a literal army of chefs in a huge kitchen cooking daily, near Michelin Star quality breakfast and dinner for about 2000 members. This sounds grueling, but actually looking back I really only remember the fun times of the 7 years I returned as a chef at the Grove. (Ehhh, for the most part, at least… well, there *was* a particularly bad year with a couple of very, very catastrophic mishaps concerning 200 pounds of beets and 15 gallons of garden pea coulis that I’m convinced gave me PTSD for a couple of months afterwards, and I to this day STILL get occasional nightmares about this, but we’ll save that for another blog post.)

The song of the day has special meaning to me and my good friend Big Mike. One tradition at the Grove is an employee-only talent show held during the last weekend of the event. Historically, it was ALWAYS a server, or bartender, or valet driver or something who won every year; never any kitchen staff. I guess it was natural that chefs never competed, because we were always exhausted and generally always had too much to do to really find the time to rehearse. But one year Big Mike and I set out to with a plan to finally change that. That morning, I remember bringing my guitar with me to the kitchen and safely stashing it in the dry storage area upstairs during breakfast service. Then, during the small afternoon lull before dinner service where everyone was either putting the final touches on that night’s dinner prep or prepping for next day’s breakfast, we snuck out of the kitchen and went to a quiet corner of the redwood-shaded outdoor dining circle, acoustic guitar and hastily drawn-up lyrics in hand, and did a cold rehearsal for no more than 30 minutes still in our chef whites and aprons. I don’t remember much between practicing and actually performing our skit being that this was back in 2014, but I’ll never forget the assistant general manager on the mic during the employee dinner announcing the winners of that years talent show to hundreds: “And the winners for this years talent show… for the first time in Bohemian Grove history…. are from the kitchen!”

So the song of the day is House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, because this is the song we had performed (in this style) almost impromptu in front of the entire Grove workforce and somehow did it well enough to win the talent show that year. It wasn’t the original lyrics though, we had modified lyrics to describe that year’s experience of being a couple of sleep-deprived cooks surviving in that insane kitchen. I think it actually came out pretty funny, which probably helped our performance out a whole lot. I’m sure those lyrics are still in one of Big Mike’s old notebooks, I really should find the time to ask him to find those pages again when we return back home.

MagAO-X 2023A Day 9: Rise & Grind

Yesterday I arrived with Eden and one way to gauge how chaotic the journey to LCO was is the level of shin splints experienced the next day. That is to say, the trek was not without some hiccups. From semi-justified TSA traffic stops…

Your friendly Tucson TSA agents ensuring no rattlesnakes get through and onto the plane.

…to major flight delays. If anyone reading this has the clearance to retrieve security footage of ATL’s B Terminal you’d find two grad students running faster than a supercharged V8 and scattering many meandering airport families while doing so.

The language barrier was a bit higher than anticipated which caused a few more delays at SCL but nonetheless we made it! After a long rest we prepared to do the big move and install next.

He may be slow but oh lawd he comin’

The gory details might be left to future post but the first task of the day was to push MagAO-X onto the transport vehicle and drive it (slowly) up the hill from the clean room to the telescope platform.

Once it was at the telescope we made ample use of the many convenient tools integrated into the building to make our lives a lot easier.

The scariest part (for me) is always the crane operations, but everything went by without a hitch. After the table legs were placed under the floating MagAO-X it had to be lowered just right to ensure everything buttons up together nicely in the end.

One of the last steps before first light was the cabling procedures. Here we see our DM-cabling gurus hard at work.

The rest of the night didn’t offer many more photo opportunities and was honestly a bit of a blur (perhaps due to being awake for nearly 24 hours) but MagAO-X is being fed real stellar photons and it’s working great!

Well this “first light” post could have undoubtedly gone a bit deeper into the operations and science, except we’ve all been up since 7:30a and it’s well past 4:00a now with a few more hours to get through before we can call it quits. So we’re all very tired (except Warren apparently), so it’s time to sign off….

Song of the Day

As per the 2023A blog rules a song must be chosen for each day of the run. One stipulation is that you must recount who recommended the song to you. So today it’s “Tell Her About It” by Billy Joel. One realization that dawned on me today is that the compressor on the cool new kid on the block, XKID, pumps along to the tempo of this very song (or it’s dang close). So I guess you could say MagAO-X’s new friend XKID recommended this song to me. That counts, right?

UCSC’s AO Summer School 2022: The Times That We Live In

I think I speak for all three of us MagAO-Xians that went to the AO workshop last week when I say that it was a blast! Between the beautiful campus at UCSC, fun hands on activities, and friendly participants there was always something to focus on (heh). Unfortunately it was probably the diverse group of international attendees that had COVID-19 prowling for victims, and I was one of the ones to get caught in the nets…! Thus I unfortunately had to miss the last few parts of the event, but the parts I did get to participate in was rich in really cool AO things.

Like Warren and Eden I got my eye’s aberrations measured by happily staring into every (very low power) laser they told me to.

I was mesmerized by lectures detailing all the non-astronomical applications of AO — who knew microscopists could benefit so much from AO? I also got a chance to converse with Dr. Phil Hinz who (to my surprise) contributed work towards the MagAO/Clio project. Astronomy is such a small world. I especially enjoyed seeing Prof. Olivier Guyon’s presentations on things going on over at the SCExAO project.

Super hike through the greater UCSC campus area with some UA friends! (ft. Hélène Rousseau from Steward Observatory)
Lunch was made interesting with aggressive squirrels wanting to go halfskies with everyone on the delicious cafeteria food!
One last stroll through the campus to spot more wildlife before making arrangements to stay off campus for the last day.

Onwards on the road to recovery…

Song of the Day

The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me

BONUS CONTENT: Santa Cruz Boardwalk

On the first night of the workshop we visited the beach and walked along the boardwalk which had a lot of fun carnival games.

Congratulations to Dr. Jennifer Lumbres!

The city of Tucson was made brighter today with the passing of Jhen’s PhD defense and a much-deserved level up. A huge round of applause for Dr. Lumbres!

Jhen’s talk was very comprehensive regarding her various projects she’s taken on during her time here at UArizona. If you’re like me, you learned a lot about the intricacies of Fresnel propagation and the problems that laser guide stars can solve. It was pretty surreal to me being that the last time I attended one of her talks was at the 2020 OpSci Winter School event when I was but a mere crouton in the world of optics and astronomy.

Moving forward, she’ll be relocating to sunny Los Angeles to work for Northrop-Grumman as an optical engineer and resident chocolatier early next year.

Salamat, Jhen! That’s a fancy Tagalog term that roughly translates to “may your hunts be fruitful and your arrows fly swift.” Or something like that. On second thought I think it just means thanks. We’ll miss you! (and your treats..!)

Song of the Day

Welcome to Flagpole, AZ

It’s true- Flagstaff was this 🤏 close to being named Flagpole, which just doesn’t have the same ring if you ask me. Truth be told, this weather lately has me missing thin air and Ponderosa Pines so allow me to reminisce a bit and take you on a virtual tour through my “perfect day” in Flag. So get your Patagonia parka on, top up your Hydroflask and please, clean the snow off your car before you get back on I-17 southbound to go back home.

credit: Macy’s European Coffeehouse and Bakery | Downtown Flagstaff, AZ

Flagstaffers love their coffee, and there’s no better place in town to start the day than Macy’s European Coffeehouse. Get there early though, the indoor seating capacity is notoriously limited and, consequently, the ordering line is often out-the-door. Want a lighter breakfast option? Try their vegetarian biscuits and gravy or one of the many pastry options prepared in-house or locally. Otherwise, let’s take a short walk over to Martanne’s. Just look both ways before crossing over the train tracks, Flagstaff gets ~100 trains that barrel through each day (about half & half eastbound and westbound).

Now that breakfast is over, it should be about 10 a.m. if we are making good time. Since we’re here, we might as well walk off all that delicious Mexican food and sightsee around historic downtown. You’ll notice in the picture that the hotel sign (and many other buildings in the area) has the aesthetic reminiscent of classic Hollywood; legend has it Flagstaff was destined to be what Hollywood was in the earlier half of the 20th century, but then people realized just how cold and snowy it can get so… that never happened. But! These old buildings remain to remind us of all this cool history.

For lunch, let’s head over to Karma sushi since we’re still in downtown, which is one of the more popular sushi spots in the city. Maybe it’s pricey (it is desert sushi after all), maybe the aesthetic catches your eye, but I like this spot because it’s in the building of the once famous Black Cat Café where Clyde Tombaugh (discoverer of Pluto) would visit twice a day from his office at Lowell Observatory to get some grub. It’s pretty surreal to nibble some edamame at the very booth Clyde would have been eating his lunch ~90 years prior on the day he noticed something fishy on the photographic plates containing Pluto.

cred: Fresh Sushi Take-Out & Delivery (928) 774-6100 – Karma Sushi – Karma Sushi (

We’re still in town, so look towards north to see the San Francisco peaks in all their glory. A little-known fact about Flagstaff is its proximity to the San Francisco volcano field containing ~600 extinct volcanos. If you look at the peaks, hold up your hands and align your two index fingers with the two outer mountain slopes, you’ll gain a sense of the approximate peak of the mountain before it went kablooey. Actually let’s start towards Snow Bowl and the peaks because what’s a visit to Flagstaff without some hiking under the cover of towering aspens? Let’s now head to Veit Springs Trail on Mt. Humphreys for a nice ~2 mile loop. Who knows, if luck is really on your side this day you might find the famed lost treasure. Anyways, now that the sun is setting let’s finish driving up Mt. Humphreys to watch the sunset at the top near the ski lodge with it’s fantastic westerly view at ~9,000 feet.

For dinner, we’ll head to one of Flagstaff’s true hidden restaurant gems: Black Bart’s Steakhouse. This old Western-themed restaurant is tucked away in the back of an RV park and the only form of advertising they do is word-of-mouth and a pretty inconspicuous sign visible from the adjacent freeway. It gets better- this restaurant is known for scooping up a lot of NAU music majors for their nightly musical theater. Many times has my server participated in grandiose acapella performances of musical classics or played live piano for the stage dancers in between drink refills!

To end this day in Flagstaff, we turn our attention to none other than Lowell Observatory to look through some seriously cool telescopes and see various historical objects, such as the Pluto telescope which has been decommissioned and is more of a museum exhibit now. The 24″ Clark refractor telescope and dome shown in the photographs is of particular interest because that’s the telescope Percival Lowell himself used to observe Mars and form his (sadly debunked) theory of Martian canal systems and waterways. Interestingly, the mechanics behind rotating this massive dome are none other than a bunch of original 1940’s Ford pickup truck wheels arranged along the circumference of the building that the dome sits on top of and spins. The tires have to be maintained and topped up with air otherwise the dome will scrape when rotating due to sinking too low in its recess.

Well that’s it! And writing this was certainly a nostalgic episode for me. Thank you for reading what I consider to be a pretty good day in Flagstaff having been a local for 5 years. Let me know if you ever decide to plan a trip (post Covid, of course) and want some pro tips! Now let’s hope for snow in Tucson today 🤞

The song of the day seems a bit out of season, but with the current winter storm sweeping over the state, may just be appropriate…!