MagAO-X 2022A Day 27: The Best For Last

We have waited a long time for a night like last night. MagAO-X had first light way back in Dec 2019. We had just 4 nights to get it aligned to the telescope for the first time, figure out how to acquire a star, and start testing and optimizing our control system. That was just long enough to show that we had a working system, but we left knowing that there were lots of things to improve.

We all know what happened next. For two years we’ve been biding our time in the our lab at UArizona. That both gave us time to perfect a bunch of things, but I think it also caused us to forget a lot of things we learned in 2019. And Extreme-AO is hard. Really hard. It took us most of our 2 week run to start to understand MagAO-X on the telescope facing real turbulence.

Over the last 4 or 5 days I knew that we had really gotten some things working better, and (with lots of remote help from Olivier) had tuned our control system to where it was demonstrating much more stability. But right when we turned that corner the weather also took a turn, and the seeing blew up for 3 nights.

However, Cerro Manqui always seems to save one good show for us AOistas on our last night, and did not make an exception for this run. We had 1/2 arcsecond or better seeing almost the entire night. We even saw 0.35″ on the Baade guider — it is always said such measurements are an upper limit due to the optics involved (but don’t forget outer scale, which is important at LCO, so r_0 is a little smaller). During a period of steady 0.5″ seeing, we performed a thorough optimization of our non-common-path deformable mirror, and took some deep PSF measurements with 1376 modes running at 2 kHz. Here is the result:

The point spread function (PSF — that just means “image of a star” for most purposes) of MagAO-X at 908 nm (in the z’ filter). This is the combo of two images, the central circle used a neutral density (ND) filter to avoid saturation, and is scaled to show the Airy Pattern detail. The rest is without the ND, and shows the faint structures of the PSF. The key feature for AO nerds is the square darker region, our “dark hole”, which is 44 lamda/D on a side (22 in radius). This means we are really correcting the 1367 modes in our basis set.

We’re all ecstatic to finally see such an image from MagAO-X. An amazing team of people has worked incredibly hard for the last 6 years to make this happen. Way to go everybody!

Clay opening for our last night.

I took this photo sitting on the dome floor. The sunrise is starting through the lower louvers. At the same time, you can see moonlight reflected off the primary illuminating the bottom of the secondary mirror baffles, and stars are still shining.

We worked with Alycia taking great data all night. As soon as she declared the observing over for the night, we shut it all down and started tearing it apart.

Sunrise disassembly.

After de-cabling and getting ready for the crane, Sebastiaan, Logan, and I went down for a short nap. Laird and Joseph (who went to bed early for this reason) worked with the crew to get MagAO-X craned off the platform.

We wrap MagAO-X in mylar emergency blankets to keep it from overheating in the sun.
Mauricio Cabrales steps back to make sure MagAO-X is going up straight on the crane.
MagAO-X is now in the cleanroom, waiting to go back in its boxes for the trip home.

We have one more big day of crane ops tomorrow to get our stuff all packed up to ship home. I confess that as soon as I finished processing the PSF image, Sebastiaan and I started listing all the things we know aren’t perfect yet, and started making predictions for how much better we can make the next one (faster, more modes, predictive control laws, better NCP optimization . . . we can go on). So we’ll be busy over the next 6 months.

The song of the day is one my favorites. For obvious reasons I think.

Metallica covering Astronomy. Unless this is your first time with us, you’ve heard it before.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 19: MAPS & SCExAO to the rescue

MagAO-X is proving to be a complicated beast. Just when we think we’re making progress at taming it, we find another thing that doesn’t quite work yet — or is just plain failing.

Sometimes we need help from our collaborators working on similar AO systems. We’ve been getting really nice performance, but with a touch of instability that has made it difficult to keep that performance for long periods of time. We use the CACAO software developed by Olivier Guyon for the SCExAO system. Olivier has been working with us all along to make MagAO-X go fast, and today I got up early to dive into the details to figure out what has been causing these subtle stability issues.

To test things out, Olivier was running experiments on SCExAO in Hawaii while I was doing the same on MagAO-X. It looks like we succeeded! We are much happier with the new calibrations we took this afternoon.

MagAO-X (blueish grey) and SCExAO (orange and purple) working together. Olivier can be seen thinking hard.

The bigger assist came from our friends on the MAPS project. We’ve been suffering from a failing rotator on our atmospheric dispersion corrector (ADC). This little motorized device rotates a prism to keep the Earth’s atmosphere from going all rainbow on us.

Knowing that MAPS is using the same rotator — and importantly are not currently looking up at stars — we sent up the ole’ bat signal to see if they could get one to us. Oli Durney (who is the optical engineer for MagAO-X!) sprang into action and tore apart MAPS’ ADC and got the stage to FedEx. From there it went to Jeb Bailey in Santa Barbara, who just happened to be coming to LCO 48 hours later. (Jeb is himself part of the MagAO-X team, though that’s not why he came this time).

So we got the replacement stage delivered last night, and today did the replacement.

The ADCs are a little hard to get to when we’re installed on Clay.
Laird and Jared cutting zip-ties to remove the cable.
Laird calmly considering the problem.
There is just no good way to get to this part of MagAO-X at the telescope, but we managed.

Once we got the instrument buttoned back up and our new calibration applied, we went back to work doing coronagraphy at H-alpha looking for planets.

Joseph driving MagAO-X in SDI coronagraphic mode. Laird and Sebastiaan providing helpful suggestions.

Here’s a video of some parts of MagAO-X working. Woofer, tweeter, WFS at top left. At bottom and from left are the H-alpha channel, continuum channel, and then our LOWFS camera which is capturing light rejected by the coronagraph.

A short period of MagAO-X observations.

Logan figured out how to get Vizcachas to be our substitute Easter Bunnies. they’re going great.

Joseph got a special meal. He claims to not know why. I was jealous.
Two culpeos watched us eat supper.
The traditional sunset pic.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 17: Coronagraphic Burrito

It finally feels like we’re starting to settle in here. We have begun doing hours-long observations of science targets for observers, and that means we can actually take a breath, catch up on email, and bond with our friends at LCO.

While having our dinner we were graced by our friend the Burro who likes pets.

Hi there, I could use a pet.

Sebastiaan had to negotiate passage to dinner.

There is a price for passage.

And Logan got her first nose scritches in.


Sebastiaan then had to pay the toll to get by.

Sebastiaan tests the ear-face boundary condition

And Avalon made friends too.

This was Avalon’s last night at LCO (for this run, anyway). Safe travels and thanks for all the help!

Our telescope operator Hernán Nuñez ( a hero of MagAO runs past ) told us that he thinks these guys have basically been abandon up here for a couple of years. This one, at least, clearly trusts and even likes humans, so it doesn’t seem like they’ve been wild their whole lives. Our friend might be a little lonely.

After our fun dinner party with the Burro, I walked up to the telescope for the first time since we went on sky. On the way up I saw our friend Povilas — It’s great catching up with old friends after such a long absence.

The road to the Clay. That’s Povilas coming down the hill.

The night started with some VIS-X work by Sebastiaan.

Where’s Sebastiaan? He’s in this photo working on MagAO-X.

Logan gave a tour to some friends.

We started work on a nice bright star, part of Logan’s program. This was a great chance to put our high-speed low-drag coronagraphic mode to work. In the below image you can see the usual MagAO-X control panels. The lower right desktop shows the simultaneous images with a coronagraph disk occulting the star so we can look for companions. The 4 spots forming a cross are made by our deformable mirror as fiducials for alignment and photometry. The right-most image is our “low order wavefront sensor” camera, which is imaging light reflected from the coronagraph mask (the thing making the dark spot in the center of the other two images). We use that light to keep the spot centered at high speed (in this case 600 Hz). Fully understanding and optimizing this mode of observing is the key to my main science goal for MagAO-X, so it’s really exciting to see us getting started on it with a real star.

need more monitors

Here’s a close up view. Here the “satellite speckles” have green lines drawn between them, and the coronagraph is centered on the cross.

Exercise for the student: where does each speckle in this image come from?

While we worked inside on our tiny little field of view, the great big outside sky was putting on quite a show:

The moon over Clay as we tracked one of Laird’s targets
5 planets in one view

In the desert. A horse with no name. I can still remember my name. But the day of the week is already gone.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 9: New Arrivals and New Friends

This picture is to show you that some work happened today:

Dr. Sebastiaan Haffert, NASA Sagan Fellow, hard at work flattening MagAO-X. Flat means “optically as perfect as our system is capable of”. The problem is that in this research group “we have standards”, and they are hard to meet. So we do this over and over and over again in search of perfection.
Here’s the result. Looking AMAZING.

The following images are just filler:

Action Vizzy!
Fox antics at dinner — they know when the food is out.

The big MagAO-X news is that Logan and Avalon arrived today! All three of our teams have successfully made it to LCO with no problems at SCL. If you squint down in the valley you can see the dust trail of their van, which we noticed while eating dinner outside.

Click to enbiggen, and look for the dust plume to the left of the leftward pole, down in the valley.

Now for the big news of the day. I have a new friend!!!!!!! On my way for a run, I strolled out of room just as one of the burros came through two of the dorms and started down the path ahead of me.

Once I started to catch up, he turned around. I think maybe he realized I was between him and his family, but he also didn’t mind much. In fact, he put his head down, relaxed his ears, and took a couple of steps towards me: which the farm kid in me recognized as classic horse for “hi, it’s ok to pet me”. I did not misinterpret:

Apologies for the vertical video. It’s hard to hold a phone and pet a burro at the same time.

Though the body language is the same, unlike the horses I know, burros do not appear to like their ears scritched. But face, nose, and chin are fine.

I then heard a clip clop behind me and realized it wasn’t just us:

You’ll recognize our friend the lovely Backup Burrito. She realized it was me and kept on trucking lest I put her back to work.

About 20 minutes later I passed them when I was running back up the hill from the bodega. The adults just looked at me briefly and kept going. But Backup Burrito stopped and acted like she was trying to work up the courage to smell my hand. But not yet.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 6: on the Sunset Antics of Astronomers and Vizcachas

My day started with a classic LCO breakfast.

A perfect way to start the day.

After that we ran up the hill and cabled our 2040 actuator MEMS DM. We got it on the first try! We are getting better at this procedure.

Sebastiaan and I cabling the tweeter. Photo by Joseph Long.
Sebastiaan is testing the actuator response to see if we got any cable wrong. We didn’t.

After that, we turned the cleanroom over to our Bubbled comrades. Laird and Justin put in a loooong day of aligning the optics. We sat up in the library and watched. It’s sort of like a medical procedure drama.

Laird and Justin working on MagAO-X.
At the end of the day we had a pretty nice PSF. Not perfect, but that’s why we have an AO system. Tomorrow we’ll clean this up with the DMs. That’s Laird at upper right.

We found this book in the library, which we might need if any REAL problems come up.

We don’t use FORTRAN
A panoramic view of LCO just before the sun dips below the horizon, with Dr. Justin Knight a bubble’s length away from the photographer.

After taking the above photo and circling around Justin, I started down the path to begin my walk up. Then I noticed a sliver of moon hanging over the valley. Then the following ensued:

Joseph got an up close and personal Vizcacha interaction.

It can take a second, but you’ll notice that Vizzy is looking into the library at Joseph.

The reference to bananas in the slack convo is to this blog post from the MagAO-Classic Age of Legends. We have a long history of shenanigans with the cleanroom vizcacha family.

The post-sunset show was extravagant tonight.

LCO, the Moon, and a plane.

Changing up the sound tonight for the song of the day. I think this is the best of the “new” Metallica, as good as the old classics.

Metallica: Moth Into Flame