MagAO-X 2022A Day 29: Non-Working Title

We did it, folks. We made it the full 29 days. (Maybe there will be a blog post from Atlanta for Day 30, maybe not. Depends how tired we are.) Jared had the presence of mind to take a group shot on our transport down from Las Campanas to the airport.

The covid clinic we visted along the way (fortunately not pictured) was demystified by Justin’s blog post. The most difficult part was waiting for them to fix their printer issues.

At the airport, we saw an interesting macaroni-penguin-liveried plane. And we ordered the traditional papas fritas and Kunstmann Torobayo (on tap no less).

Then we left Laird in La Serena.

(Not really; he was on the next flight out.)

Once in Santiago’s airport we traveled, Lairdless, in search of food and drink. We ended up at notable South American eatery “Ruby Tuesday,” where we finally got Logan a pisco sour. (Due to Las Campanas Observatory’s status as a dry site, there wasn’t a chance previously.)

I dunno, this stuff could catch on. Maybe they’ll expand their franchise to the US!

We’re all about ready to collapse into our assigned seats now.

However, the blog must go on, so I leave you with your…

Song of the Day

The song of the day is “Say Goodbye” by Papas Fritas.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 24: Getting dispersed

Tonight was split 50/50 between Dr. Weinberger and Dr. Haffert. Once Alycia’s observations were done, Sebastiaan started commissioning his extreme, visible, high-resolution, MagAO-X-fed, integral field spectrograph VIS-X. There was a little bit of panic initially when the laptop pinch-hitting for “VIS-X instrument control computer” wouldn’t talk to the camera, but Sebastiaan shimmied up the ladder onto the instrument platform to debug.

It turns out that laptops are just like dogs. If you’re cold, they’re cold. Bring your laptops inside. (This also goes for post-docs.)

Once everything was working, he was rewarded with more mini-spectra than you can shake a stick at.

And, since the observatory advanced to “phase 3” of their COVID plan, we were able to have everyone in the control room for it!

Meanwhile, I was working on some astrometry with a field in Baade’s window that we imaged earlier in the run. (This very blog introduced it to the world as a calibration field for high contrast imaging, but for some reason the blog post doesn’t get the same number of citations as the paper by the GPI folks.)

MagAO-X imaging of HD165054 and its neighbors in z band, 30 second exposures, 10.5 min total. Left is scaled to show faint companions and the glare of the star, right is unsharp-masked to remove most of the glare.

We didn’t get a lot of field rotation to allow starlight subtraction this time, so the unsharp mask is the best way to see the stars hidden in the glare. We’ll be able to use them to calibrate the scale between angular coordinates on the sky and pixel coordinates in the instrument, using the measurements others (like our friends at GPI) have made of the field.

Song of the Day

The most famous spectrally dispersed album in music history is obviously Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. (Plus, it has a celestial body in the title.)

Money is the main thing Sebastiaan needs to make VIS-X even more extreme, so thank goodness he’s got some coming. Stay tuned for 2022B.

Quotes of the Moment

We have not been logging memorable quotes day-by-day because, frankly, we’re all extremely tired by the time it’s time to blog. But here are a few that have been queued up for publication over the last weeks.


“That god damn viscacha shows up in every picture no matter what we do.”

on the appreciation of viscacha visages

“This is so exciting for visitor 3. Visitor 3 gets to go down the road like the big cars!”

on the trip to GMT

“Oh gosh, we might as well be licking each other up here!”

on infection control measures

“At some point, some of us will actually die from lack of sleep.”

on sleep

“I want there to be a cat.”

on the Magellan tertiary mirror

“But seven… seven is a thing.

on mirrors

“He doesn’t know that if he jumps in my lap I’ll give him anything he wants.”

on foxes

“Stop calling it second light!”

on second light

“Oop, that was a shrimp-and-pickle burp.”

on local dietary habits

“Gender is such a complicated thing.”

on the subject of connector pass-throughs

“Justin, are you on your nuts? Everyone check your nuts. [giggling ensues] There’s nothing funny about that. This is a professional environment here.”

on nuts

MagAO-X 2022A Day 22: A Hole Thing

Today we got up early (3:00 P.M.) for a tour of the Giant Magellan Telescope construction site, arranged by our fearless leader.

We met with architect Francisco Figueroa at the site, who was happy to show us around—as soon as we put on vests, hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, a high-visibility safety vest, and safety-toe boots. (We had foolishly left ours on the other mountaintop, but fortunately they had a whole closet full of brand-new safety-toe boots.)

Thanks to The Covid-19 Situation and These Unprecedented Times (and their friends Supply Chain Disruption and Financial Constraints), work has been stopped for a couple of years. This meant that the main thing to see was a hole, soon(ish) to be filled with a concrete giant telescope pier.

It was windy as heck up there.

After another delicious dinner, we went up to the Magellan Clay telescope to begin operations. It was still pretty windy… and seeing wasn’t great… so we listened to Magellan sing in the wind.

Listen closely for its song.

Our observer this evening, Dr. Alycia Weinberger, is a good sport, and was happy to hang out on Zoom with us even though we couldn’t get locked on to her target just yet.

After a while, we did get back on target, and Jared experimented with ways to push MagAO-X in poor seeing conditions. We can’t reach our most demanding performance targets, but we were pleasantly surprised by our performance in these challenging conditions (in these unprecedented times).

Even though we did not get our 0.4″ seeing (who do we talk to about a refund?), we were able to have some fun. For example, we were served butts for our night lunch sandwiches. (Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have grilled eggplants and peaches for dessert.)

Graduate Student Logan Pearce overcome by emotion at the sight of the sandwich.

As I write this Alberto, our telescope operator, has just asked us if pointing into 30 MPH winds is okay. Veterans of MagAO will recall that suspending a complex instrument over the primary led to some paranoia over wind speeds. Fortunately, MagAO-X is in no danger of being blown off the telescope.

Carlos Culpeo couldn’t make it but at least he’s zooming in.

The P.I. made a great discovery tonight! He just discovered that we have an extra night of telescope time (going by the official schedule), totally overturning the previous scientific consensus on which day we’re moving our instrument off the telescope. Stay tuned for the Nature paper.

Song of the Day

A recent Tucson Sentinel music column highlighted new music by a Tucson local band named Annie Jump Cannon, which I felt compelled to check out.

If you’re not familiar, their namesake was the first person to figure out a sensible classification scheme for stellar spectra, at a time when women were not offered the same opportunities in science as men. (We still use her classification scheme today.)

The band, as far as I can tell, has no professional astronomers in it. (Phew.) In possibly related news, the song’s pretty good too.

“Strawberry Fiona” by Annie Jump Cannon

MagAO-X 2022A Day 12: Second First Light

When installing an instrument on a research telescope, the astronomers and opticians must transition from a day to a night schedule. This happens with an early start and a very (very, very) long day.

09:15: Crane operations begin at the cleanroom building

10:00: Bubble-inhabitants go to get nose-poked in exchange for their freedom

10:30: Formerly bubbled individuals encounter Gary Guanaco on their way back to the lodge

10:32: MagAO-X gets reacquainted with the Isuzu flatbed for its ride up to the telescope

12:00: Top Gun theme plays

Technically, since they were riding down the lift, the theme should be reversed:

12:40: Hunt for wild viscachas at the summit

(The hunt was unsuccessful.)

12:45: Boldly push the envelope and go to lunch with less than covid-mandated one hour offset from the crew (in the interests of getting back to work faster)

12:45 – 13:15: scarf down your lunch and get back because the crew’s lunch break is long over and they’re lifting the instrument already

14:00: Crane operations continue, now with a different crane

14:30: Crane operations conclude, alignment team springs into action. Meanwhile, MegaDesk is reassembled in the telescope control room.

14:35: MegaDesk experiences intense jealousy when confronted with UltraDesk, the Telescope Operator’s workstation. P.I. immediately orders more monitors.

14:35-17:45: Fine alignment proceeds

17:45-18:15: Dinner

18:37: sunset

18:43-23:51: cabling

22:00: Deformable mirror cabling begins

22:33: Deformable mirror cabling ends

00:01: Opening the dome

Taking some infrared astronomer data.

00:41: Light down the pipe, kinda

00:41-5:15: “For technical reasons it is not possible to determine all possible error causes”

No pictures exist of this inauspicious time. However, Laird did borrow my tripod and later send me this photograph, which he called “possibly the only data we will take tonight.” We at MagAO-X would like it to be known that, this time, it was no fault of our own.

Meteor over Magellan Clay by Professor Laird Close. 48.02 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. After integration ended, the tripod fell over.

05:16: Light down the pipe

Hey, time to start our night!

5:53: Loop is closed with 1000 modes

eps Sag

06:58: Sunrise

08:06: Going to bed

Song of the Day

I’ve been waiting a while to use this one on a blog post. Vaguely Depeche Mode-y, but contemporary. Song of the day is “Dot in the Sky” by Drab Majesty.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 5: Clogs and cables and comrades arriving

We’ve got MagAO-X mostly re-cabled in its temporary home in the LCO cleanroom, and Doctors Close and Knight are fresh off the plane and working on the optical alignment. But, earlier, we had a fun discovery: the instrument control computer (ICC) was getting almost no coolant flow.

Yesterday, we did some brain surgery on the real-time control computer. Today was more like heart surgery. We found that although our pump tried its hardest, almost no liquid coolant made it through the ICC, and temperatures remained stubbornly high. In other words, it was clogged. We really wanted the issue to be anywhere except the CPU liquid cooling block, so of course our troubleshooting pinpointed… the CPU liquid cooling block. Not any of the lines feeding it, but the very center of it.

Disclaimer: this is actually a picture of the other computer, but it looks cooler. They’re basically the same though.

See those three pink hoses in the center, under a bunch of crap? Those go to the blocks we removed. We took the computer out of the rack, the cooling blocks off the computer, then took them both out of the clean room entirely to try and blast the clog free.

But, to no avail.

After consulting reputable YouTubes, we were pretty sure these things came apart. The down-side is, according to the manufacturer, you lose your “leak-free guarantee.” (Well, it’s probably void after 5 years anyway.)

Readers, it was gross in there. We only do extreme adaptive optics, and this was extremely gross.

It turns out glycol does not enjoy being left in tiny channels without moving for a long time. And, while MagAO-X was on its two year shipping hiatus, it didn’t get the same twice-yearly flushing it evidently needed.

Fortunately, there was a solution: graduate student labor!

Photo by Jared Males

(Just kidding; it was a team effort.)

After we reassembled and pressure tested and reinstalled everything, we had great flow. We also had just spent a few hours on another unscheduled computer disassembly, and had to hustle to get the system ready for Laird and Justin. Fortunately, it was a two-viscacha day, which boded well for our efforts.

Another of today’s wins was figuring out what the “ultra-wide angle” camera on my phone is for: making an already long advisor look even longer.

Once the computers were back online again, we used 2.67 monitors per researcher in hopes of making everything go faster.

Fortunately, installing all of the cables between the electronics rack and the instrument went great. All our movable bits in the instrument moved when we asked them to, so we had time for a bit of sunset-watching before the clean room became part of Laird and Justin’s quarantine bubble.

It only looks like a romantic twosome because Jared had to go take the picture.

I also had a wistful moment, taking a selfie in the tail plate. I definitely did not imagine that I would be the only non-faculty repeat visitor from the original team.

We rigged up a lab laptop (labtop) and left it signed in to Zoom™ so that when Laird and Justin got in we’d see them. We’re remotely supporting their alignment efforts by sitting upstairs with our laptops to move mechanisms as needed. (Or write blog posts, when not needed.)

As I write this, they’re still at it. I admire their tenacity.

Late breaking news: we have pupil images on the pyramid wavefront sensor!

Song of the Day

Your song of the day is brought to you by ~*~*flow*~*~.