MagAO-X 2022A Day ?? (Bonus Blog): Some way home

To aid the MagAO-X team members I’ve left behind, I’m making a post of my transit from LCO back to Tucson, AZ. Here is a list of the necessary things to travel to the U.S.:

  • A passport
  • A credit card or other valid form of payment in Chile
  • A valid COVID-19 rapid antigen test with a negative result
  • The slip of paper Chilean emigration and customs gave you upon entry to their country
  • A lot of time on your hands
The road from LCO to LSC

The road from Las Campanas Observatory to La Serena has some pristine stretches of mountain and coastal areas begging to be explored. My driver, Juan, was nice enough to indulge my desire to practice my long dormant spanish-speaking skills. Two and a half hours went by in an instant. (I also witnessed a small owl dancing and singing on the side of the road at the behest of Juan, and a short glance at a Chilean wild horse.)

Another rapid COVID-19 test abroad

Juan took me directly to the testing site which was on the corner of a strip of stores in the lot of a gas station, featured below.

The COVID-19 rapid antigen testing center in the corner of a gas station strip mall, and its contents.
(a) The testing site. (b) The check-in location. (c) The spot I sat at waiting for the rapid antigen test results.

At the check-in desk of the lab, Vital Medical Center, I was asked why I was there, as well as for my passport and a phone number and an address of where I’m staying in Chile. I gave them the El Pino office address details, as well as the number for Dave Osip. I think Roberto’s number would’ve been a bit more pertinent to provide. I also told them I needed the test for today, as I was leaving in the afternoon from LSC.

They charged about $22.000 CLPs to my credit card for the antigen test, which corresponded to about $27.00 USD. I went around the corner to the nurse’s station, had my nostril swabbed, and sat and waited for about 15 minutes. Then they printed my test results and handed them to me in an envelope.

An envelope from Vital Medical Center with my printed test results.
Negative test results to present to the Chilean airlines.

Afterward Juan took me to El Pino, which was about a 10 minute drive away.

The Luxurious El Pino

We pulled up to a gated entry way to El Pino and entered, headed up the driveway, and made our way to Roberto’s office. Roberto greeted me with a fist bump, and we made our way to the dining area and hotel.

A collage of the sites of El Pino.
(a) The driveway up to the El Pino offices. (b) El Pino! (c) The courtyard before entering Roberto’s office. (d) One of the El Pino hotel rooms, adjacent to the dining area.

WiFi is available, and actually my laptop automatically connected to the lco-staff network. I successfully ssh’d into exao1 just to verify the network was the same. I completed the Delta FlyReady documentation and even though they verified my negative COVID-19 test result in time, it did not matter to LATAM. In other words, I had to check into my flights at the LATAM airlines check-in area at La Florida airport (LSC). Because of this, I opted to leave half an hour earlier than I was originally scheduled, but I don’t think it mattered in the end.

Going back to the U.S.

The drive to LSC took a little over 10 minutes, and was provided by an LCO staff member. Once I was inside the airport, I checked in at LATAM and checked my bag, keeping only my backpack. They required my passport and COVID-19 negative test result. Then they printed all of my tickets and sent me to pass through security. Security didn’t have a line, so I was at my gate about 15 minutes after I arrived at the airport.

The flight to Santiago was on time and uneventful, and in mostly understandable English, a flight attendant stated that checked luggage for international connecting flights will move on toward its final destination before customs in another country. Disembarking the plane led me to a very long corridor to walk down towards ‘Domestic Arrivals’. At the end of it, just past the bathrooms, there is a wall with a Victoria’s Secret ad from which you should clearly only turn right. This ushered me to a more open area with a plethora of signs indicating how to find the international terminal. For example, here is half of two signs combined to provide a nice map of where to go, and a text description for international connecting flights.

A map from domestic to international terminals at the Santiago airport.
How to move from domestic to international airports in Santiago.

Once I exited the domestic terminal to outside, I ended up taking the left path from the map above. I was asked at least four times on the way out if I needed a taxi. I did not. I walked across the crosswalk and followed signs to the international terminal. Once again, it was very easy to figure out where I was going. I even walked past the Holiday Inn that Laird recommended I stay at to kill time. I will argue the new international flights building is just as nice to kill time in, and in doing so, I was already through emigration and customs awaiting my flight.

The path to the international terminal.
(a) A sign direction to the international terminal across the street from the domestic terminal exit. (b) Another sign pointing the way. (c) The finish to the left path.

Once inside the international terminal, I went upstairs and into emigration and customs after I found the corresponding gate information for my next flight.

Information about international departures.
Upstairs listing of departing international flights.

Emigration required my passport, my boarding pass, and that slip of paper from Chilean authorities upon entry to the country. I then passed through security and into the international airport. My flight information was not quite up-to-date yet, so I wandered around the airport wondering if I’d ever receive an update about my checked luggage. Eventually, I did.

A sequence of images showing customs, the entrance to the international airport terminals, a familiar scene upon entry to Chile, and a baggage claim update on the Delta app.
(a) Waiting in the emigration line. (b) Bye bye Chile! (c) This looks familiar… (d) My luggage is coming with me after all.

When it came time to board my flight from SCL to ATL, it turns out the airline wanted to re-issue the tickets for my remaining travel. I was not aware of this ahead of time, so I had to wait as many people in my boarding section went ahead of me. To issue my new ticket, they once again required my passport and negative COVID-19 test results. As a reminder, dear reader, I only had my backpack, so boarding order did not affect me. This may not be the case for you!

You’ve probably seen this all before

10 hours later, I arrived at ATL. I passed through emigration where they asked me for my passport and why I went to Chile (traveled to LCO to use the Magellan Clay telescope for MagAO-X instrument commissioning and observation), collected my checked luggage from baggage claim, then through U.S. Customs and re-checked my luggage before I went through a final security checkpoint and off to find my final gate. During baggage claim, I came across a different type of drug-detecting dog unit.

Baggage claim marvel of a small dog doing its job with its partner.
A compact model drug-sniffing K-9.

It is faster to take the train to the various concourses, but after a 10 hour flight, I decided to walk. The Charlotte, Atlanta airport is huge! My final flight to Tucson was delayed a bit, but my luggage made it (confirmed via another Delta app update), as did I. More than 24 hours of travel later and here I am, back in lovely Tucson. The song of the day mentions Tucson if you listen closely enough, or watch the lyrics (Closer, The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey).

MagAO-X 2022A Day 13: Farewell, Empanada Sunday

Full disclosure: empanada Sunday is not going anywhere – that was just clickbait to lure in readers. However, this is my last empanada Sunday since I leave the observatory in just a few days. I think the chefs knew as much because they baked an enormous party-sized empanada for all to enjoy. And all of us who received a night lunch (sorry, Laird) also enjoyed individual-sized empanadas of the strictly meat or cheese variety.

After the post-empanada excitement haze wore off and we were headed up to the telescope, I was again beset by the reality that last night the guider in front of MagAO-X had absconded away with several hours of engineering time; the hope for tonight was that wasn’t a repeatable event. After some team introspection inside the telescope dome, we agreed that a sighting of a mountain vizzy was a good omen, as it had been for MagAO-X’s move up to the telescope.

Alert mountain vizzy blending in with the rocks.
A good omen.

While I was outside of the telescope dome trying to change our luck, Logan, Joseph, and Avalon were inside watching it open up!

The telescope dome opens.
The Clay dome opens, and MagAO-X prepares to start its night.

At some later point in time in the night after loops were being closed and ADC movements were being correctly sent without offsets (not featured in any images, but just know that stars were walking away, seemingly on their own, from Jared for a while), the MagAO-X operators wanted to show everyone how to perform coronagraphic alignment. Sebastiaan went through the process of aligning the ‘bump mask’ in the coronagraphic entrance pupil which covers the dead actuator from the tweeter DM, then the larger opaque focal plane mask, and just as he was about to demonstrate positioning one of the Lyot stops, well, he couldn’t. Why? Because he couldn’t move the filter wheel of course!

Sebastiaan teaching everyone how to align the Lyot coronagraph. Featured in this image is the alignment of a focal plane mask.

The lack of fwlyot movement initiated a fair bit of troubleshooting: first in software, then with respect to the hardware. In the case of hardware, Jared and Laird, then separately Jared again had to go out to MagAO-X to give the filter wheel a stern talking to about its performance. In the end, there could be some controller issues, but the big resolve in aligning a Lyot stop was re-seating a cable which had a bent connector pin.

After this hiccup the night was relatively smooth as the next two images clearly demonstrate.

camsci1 and camsci2 imaging a star at H-alpha.
A PSF core of a star and its first Airy ring at H-alpha.
Screenshot of mega desk showing an aligned Lyot coronagraph image.
First light through the aligned Lyot coronagraph. Thanks for the screenshot, Sebastiaan (and Joseph).

Very nice PSF and coronagraphic PSF images were taken with more and more modes used in closed loop, so MagAO-X is well on its way. Moreover, empanadas were enjoyed by all throughout the night, although at least in my case, there was a slight complication from eating an empanada and wearing a face mask right after: my mask smelled like fried pastry dough for a while. Nevertheless, a successful night in all regards, yet perhaps it wasn’t only the mountain vizzy, but also the empanadas yielding better outcomes for us.

Not to dwell, but last night there was a LOT of talking between the TOs and those in charge of the telescope, and not so much science or engineering. Tonight we’ve definitely moved forward, so one might say we were a little less talk and a little more rock: (Less talk more rokk, Freezepop)

Less talk more rokk by Freezepop.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 8: LCO first-timers club

I was mistaken, but now I’m not: Sebastiaan, Avalon and I are the only team members on this run who haven’t been to Las Campanas Observatory (LCO) before. However, perhaps situation this extends to at least some of the avid blog readers, so I’d like to share what some of my experience has been like thus far.

Before that, I’d like to list a couple of additional tips to Joseph’s travel steps on the way to LCO, and then out of the bubble.

Bonus step:

Our last two comrades, Logan and Avalon, are due to arrive tomorrow, and when they are on the driving portion of the trip from La Serena to LCO they may be asked to stop and fill out the daily health check form in the first guard post building they encounter. That was something new to Laird and me as Joseph and company were only asked to do so once at LCO. It may behoove Logan and Avalon to preemptively fill out the form ahead of time while at the La Serena airport (if you can connect to WiFi, which I couldn’t) with something that looks like this:

  • passport ID#
  • place of work (mountain)
  • any of the following symptoms (no symptoms)
  • community exhibition (none of the above)

Now as far as the bubble procedure goes, you’re more or less relegated to your room and the ample outdoor spaces appropriately distanced from everyone – except maybe your bubble cohort(s). When it is your time, i.e. the morning of the 4th day you’ve been at LCO, you will be beckoned to the paramedic on the mountain who resides in the bodega (image featured below).

The bodega (warehouses).

More precisely you walk to the portable building next to a warehouse and behind the ambulance (also featured below) where you’ll receive a rapid antigen test. Five minutes later you should theoretically have a negative test result and you’ll be free to move about the mountain facilities with a mask on.

The rapid antigen test center.

As this was the case for Laird and me, we went back to our rooms for a short spell, and then reunited with the rest of the MagAO-X team at lunch time.

The team enjoying a distanced, but maskless lunch indoors. Left to right: Laird, Sebastiaan, Joseph, Jared. Photographer: Justin.

Now since it was and remains irrefutably true that the answer to Laird’s blog post from yesterday is yes, I had time to explore LCO today. (At least the pupil vignetting is no longer an issue, but what’s a few optical hardware re-positionings amongst friends? Nothing, right? Okay, so not nothing… we’re definitely going to realign the position of the science camera beam-splitter and possibly the LOWFS camera position tomorrow, but we’re practically done after that…) Here are my results:

I went for a run, and I found some lively road blocks.

A burrito enjoying a snack.

If I’m not mistaken, I made my way to the site of the 40″ and 100″ telescopes where I found another surprise.

The fruits of my labor – another telescope site.

A Guanaco! Unfortunately I could only get within about 80 feet of it before it started to move away from me, so apologies for the poor image quality.

A guanaco sighting, a.k.a my crowning achievement!

And finally after dinner while walking with Jared back to the cleanroom where MagAO-X currently resides, we snapped a few pictures of a culpeo. Jared definitely captured the best culpeo still, so kudos to him for lending it out for the blog.

A culpeo roaming around after sunset.

I think that’s all of the animals I’m likely to see minus the airborne ones, so not bad for one day. And for anyone wondering about the viscachas, I was actually with Laird when he snagged that viscacha duo photo – it counts!

I’ve lived in Tucson for a while now, so I’m definitely used to some spaced out housing outside of city limits, but scenes like this are completely foreign to me:

A view of the Magellan Clay telescopes and the vast amount of rolling hills around them.

In other words, we’re not in the suburbs anymore (Arcade Fire, The Suburbs).

Behold: Alexander T. Rodack, Ph.D

Alexander T. Rodack began the day as any ordinary graduate student: tired, depressed, and wondering when, if ever, it will end? Well Alex, today is that day.

Welcome to having a doctorate from the College of Optical Sciences! I’m sure everyone who attended your dissertation defense thoroughly enjoyed your talk. And for those that weren’t present, I hope you post the recording somewhere for them to be amazed by the fruits of your labor (if they can understand what you’ve done, of course).

School’s out! Now go on and get to work at Raytheon!

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 18: Numbering the days

Hello everyone, my name is Justin. I’m a soon-to-be Ph.D-holder-guy in the midst of writing my dissertation on the topic of the coronagraphic architecture known as the PIAACMC (Phase-Induced Amplitude Apodization Complex Mask Coronagraph). Basically this coronagraph uses everything but the kitchen sink to suppress stellar light, while preserving as much planet light as possible for observation. This list includes beam-shaping optics (the PIAA part), conventional apodizers (sometimes in addition to the PIAA part), a destructive interference inducing focal plane mask, and Lyot stops to block additional starlight diffracted toward the edge of the post-focal plane mask pupil plane. Feel free to learn more about PIAACMC and its current state ad nauseam from my dissertation after I graduate!

While I currently professionally live and breath PIAACMC, it’s not all I do – especially in the midst of our current living situation where we’re all stuck at home, or would rather be (thanks essential workers). To keep the boredom at bay, I’ve taken to revisiting some old hobbies, as well as to acquiring some new. Let me explain.

Back as an undergraduate, I pursued a degree in math. I studied group theory, real and complex analysis, topics in linear algebra, and number theory to name a few. In addition to learning about these fields, I would often spend time learning about the historical figures who helped prop them up. In particular, I really enjoyed learning about the many mathematicians and other scientists who contributed to number theory. Why? Because historically number theory has few practical applications, so everyone was said to be doing math for math’s sake when they studied the field. What a pure intellectual pursuit (according to 20 year old me anyway)!

As you may currently be thinking, I’ve recently been looking up mathematicians and their contributions to number theory. Some of my discoveries have been the creator of TeX, Dr. Donald Knuth’s, early “journal” contribution discussing an alternative standard system of weights and measures: Potrzebie (did you know the speed of light is roughly 9.8e15 Potrzebies/Clarke, or 9.8e15 thicknesses of MAD magazine #26/the average rotation time of the earth in seconds?). A few other nuggets I’ve found include the largest numbers used in a mathematical proof (Skewes numbers), and the calculation of Brun’s constant revealing a flaw in an Intel Pentium chip architecture. Fun stuff!

For the new, I recently learned a method to solve a 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube. Using the so-called Beginner’s method, I have an average of five solve time of about one minute and thirty-five seconds. This is abysmally slow for speed-cubers, but that’s not the point. It’s just a precursor to study the Rubik’s Cube group, and to have bragging rights that I can actually solve a cube.

Hopefully everyone is finding interesting ways to entertain themselves.

And since I’ve been talking about numbers, how about a Song of the Day with at least one: One by Metallica.