XWCL among the aliens

MagAO-X and the eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab are affiliated with the Alien Earths project, an interdisciplinary collaboration led by Dániel Apai. I was going to list off the disciplines that they are inter-ing, but they said it best on their website:

Our Alien Earths team includes experts in planet formation, exoplanet detection and characterization, planet formation, planetary atmospheres, astro- and cosmochemistry, meteorite and asteroid sample analysis, planetary interiors and atmospheres, and mathematical biology and ecology.

This week, they are holding their all-hands meeting in Tucson.

We are contributing a whopping five talks to the program, giving us a chance to not only overwhelm them with our direct-imaging jargon, but also keep it up over multiple days.

As a prelude of the coming flood, Logan Pearce gave our science and instrument status update early in the Wednesday program.

“Après moi le déluge” — Logan, probably

She also took the opportunity to advertise the MagAO-X Sirius-Like Systems Search (final logo pending):

After lunch, Sebastiaan Haffert gave an update on direct imaging plans with the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope and the planned GMagAO-X instrument our group is developing.

Lest you think we gave every talk at this meeting, rest assured that there were other people on the schedule. (Organizer Dr. Kevin Wagner thankfully spaced us out so we wouldn’t overwhelm people.)

However, this is the Extreme Wavefront Control Lab blog, and we don’t claim to present the proceedings of the meeting here. On to the next! Avalon McLeod showed videos with enough of our instrument interfaces to terrify our theorist colleagues.

Black blazers are de rigueur.

Our last talk of today was Eden McEwen speaking about achieving mastery over the concept of TIME.


Dr. Sebastiaan Haffert closed out the session by giving us all permission to go, provided we return for free breakfast tomorrow.

Okay, Sebastiaan, if you really insist.

Song of the Day

“Diamonds on Neptune” by Old 97s

But who’s got time for heavenly things?

Merry MagAO-Xmas, and a happy 2023A/B!

This year has been a wild ride, which is to say, kind of on par with a normal pre-pandemic year. Conferences were held, telescopes were observed through, new people joined the program in real life (rather than Zoom™) and it wasn’t a big deal.

This post is not a retrospective, however. This post is to document the making of shortbread llamas, for anyone who fancies one. (Also, I owe Chef David Verdugo of Las Campanas Observatory a recipe in our exchange.)

Llamalmond Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 8-10 llamas
Time: 1 hour + time to decorate
Special equipment: llama cookie cutter

Received as a Christmas present

For the dough

  • 1 stick of butter (113 g)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (or almond meal)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the icing

  • Powdered sugar
  • Food coloring
  • Cocoa (for brown icing)

Make the llamas

  1. Set your oven to 350ºF / 325ºF convection and line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Beat together the butter and powdered sugar using a mixer on medium-high (scraping the bowl with a flexible spatula as needed) until completely combined, with a texture like creamy frosting.
  3. Switching to low speed, add the all-purpose flour, almond flour (or meal), and salt. Mix until just combined, adding water a teaspoon at a time if needed. The dough may be crumbly, but should hold together if you press it together by hand.
  4. Form the dough into a ball or log and wrap tightly, then pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  5. Unwrap the dough and place it on a floured work surface. Roll to 1/2″ thickness. (If it’s too hard to roll out, give it a few good whacks with your rolling pin.)
  6. Cut out your llamas. A floured bench scraper or thin metal spatula will help you lift them off, and transfer them to the parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  1. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pan around the halfway mark. The llamas are done when they show a slight hint of browning on their edges.
And this is what you get if you don’t rotate halfway through. Darned ovens.
  1. Let them cool for 10 minutes before removing from the sheet, or until they’re at room temperature before decorating.

Decorate the llamas

Powdered sugar, sometimes called icing sugar, turns into icing with only the slightest encouragement. Mix your food coloring (or 1-2 tsp of cocoa powder) with 1/4–1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and dribble in water a little bit at a time, stirring until you get a decently stiff paste of the desired color.

Put the icing in piping bags if you have them, or small zip-lock bags if you don’t. Cut off the tiniest bit of the corner, and pipe a bit onto a plate to test it out.

Decorate as you wish! (The icing will be dry within an hour or so, but maybe don’t throw the llamas into a cookie jar until it is.)

Song of the Day

I apologize in advance, but this has been stuck in my head for going on two weeks now and needs to get out.

“Llama Song (Llama, llama, duck)” by some internet wag idk

Bonus Andean ~vibes~

“Relato” by CERO39 feat. Buendia

MagAO-X 2022B Day 9: MagAO-X 2022B Day 1!

MagAO-X is here on the mountain, and we have been working to unpack it since its arrival at 10am. As such, anyone looking for coherent prose in what follows is warned to expect disappointment.

We got pics tho.

This is not a pic.

Unpacking is dirty work, but it’s all worth it.

Our hands look like this:

So his hands can look like this:

Today was very “astronomy with hard hats”

But also “astronomy with cleanroom gowns”

There were occasional meetings of the two, even:

“Maggie” unpacked his new grating for VIS-X:

It was shiny:


The P.I. hugged his electronics rack once again:

MagAO-X let it all hang out:

The success of MagAO-X quite literally rests on students:

There was also a small earthquake, but it’s all good.

Song of the Day

We had 1975, now we got 1977. Ana Tijoux is a Chilean-French MC I used to listen to long before I ever visited Chile.

Trying to rap along with that is challenge mode for maintaining your Spanish-speaking skills. (I used to be able to…)

As a bonus, here’s her 2020 protest song that taught me “guanaco” is slang for the water cannon police use to disperse protests in Chile (because they both spit at you, get it?)

MagAO-X 2022B Day 5: ¡Ya basta!

The truckers are politely “only” causing traffic jams rather than a full blockade, but if you depend on freight vehicles for your business—or telescope operations—you’re still hamstrung by the fact that a ton of the trucks in Chile are busy blocking roadways and not shipping goods.

The government has read them the riot act and started detaining people. Negotiations continued today with some initial promising statements from the truckers. They continued until quite a late hour this Saturday only to remain stuck on the trucker union’s demand for government price controls on fuel. So it sounds like Sunday will remain truckless, and instrumentless.

On the plus side, we do not have thousands of tons of fruit in danger of rotting, or salmon that needs to be shipped immediately. We just sit in our rooms, screwing around doing important science stuff on laptops, and popping over to the lodge for our three square meals a day. It’d be quite relaxing, if it weren’t for the looming threat of losing telescope time worth roughly $50k a night—and the super intense compressed schedule to get on sky ASAP when the instrument gets here.

I don’t believe I used a blog post to announce our official patch design for 2022B, but now’s as good a time as any.

This is Gabriela the gata Andina (Andean mountain cat). The patch vendor did a great job simplifying my artwork, as always, but gave the cat a bit of a suspicious look.

In light of current events, I would like to present my online-exclusive patch design:

Gabriela dice: “¡Ya basta!”

The sunsets here on the mountain are incredible. Arizona can do some great stuff with monsoon clouds, but there’s this difficult-to-capture lilac band across the cloudless sky at sunset here that is beyond compare.

Some people only have eyes for one thing, though.

Also, I met a cool lizard but I didn’t catch their name. Anyone know them?

Aside from that, not much to report. Eden, Avalon, and Jialin arrive tomorrow, so we’ll have some more bloggers. (And, when the instrument shows up, hands. But who can say when that will be?)

Song of the Day

The connection to yesterday’s Delirium by The Dead South is… Saskatchewan!

Yep, more Canadians cosplaying my Southern roots. I like the song, though.

“Sleeping on the Blacktop” by Colter Wall

Now, if you want to hear some non-imaginary Appalachia, check out this short video Warren found explaining how to tell when you’ve got good alky-haul.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 0: Launched to LCO

Well, @warrenbfoster still owes us vacation photos from Valparaiso, but who knows what his internet situation is. Someone’s still gotta write the Day 0 blog post, though.

Hello again, LSC hardstand.

Compared to last time this trip didn’t have many surprises. We did learn several things, though:

  • When there’s a choice of LATAM and Delta for the 10-hour flight, Delta’s got the better seats. Jared reports leg-room upgrades on LATAM are barely anything, and not worth the additional cost. I had to sit on my complimentary blanket to sleep because the hard seats were tough on one’s rear after a few hours.
  • COVID-related arrival measures are entirely gone. No test on entry, no verification of vaccine documents. The Ministerio de Salud has dispensed with mask-wearing requirements indoors (except for healthcare settings) and most employees and passengers opted to go bare-faced.
  • Passport control took a while, but kept moving. Single line for nationals and foreigners.
  • Customs enforcement seems to be up. The scannable tags system that was new last time is now gone, replaced with brief interviews with Jared and myself about equipment we were carrying. We aren’t importing anything (of course) so we explained we had tools for scientific research and they let us go.
  • They no longer seem to care about the purpose or destination of visits. I have a slip saying I’m visiting Santiago for vacation that I must present on exiting the country, but I was never asked for those details.
  • As always, the “collect your bag, complete customs, re-check your bag” dance is a pain. Unhappily we must report that LATAM domestic baggage recheck is now even sillier. There is a counter in the international terminal, down the hall with the taxi stands right after customs but before you actually exit. It was super backed up and after waiting 10 minutes not one person had successfully re-checked their bag and left. If it’s not busy, it might be better than the situation across the road. We schlepped our bags across the way to the old terminal (T1) and went to a place with approximately 4 actual agents and all self-service kiosks. Of course, the self-service bag check does not work with our pre-tagged bags so you can go straight to the “I need an actual human” line.

Song of the Day

“Preparada” by El Columpio Asesino

Okay, so the song’s about a violent break-up but… we are preparada for 2022B.

Someone should probably come up with Song of the Day rules.