I heard you missed me

It’s been a busy month in the eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab. The main event was the return of MagAO-X after a long wait for a ride on the mountain without us. Everyone’s favorite ExAO instrument finally showed up right at the beginning of May, which of course meant that we broke out the hard hats and steel toes.

Everyone is always happy to be here.
This is the box with the AO Operations Computer (AOC).

The day of the main event started at 0600 when we started working with the mirror lab crew to crane our shipping boxes open. But first we needed the stuff that makes astronomy go:

Jay brought coffee and bagels
The box must first be unbolted
We got the lid off and before the first rays of sunshine peaked over the loading dock wall.
Then we moved on to the electronics rack.
Not everybody was awake enough for power tool operation.

MagAO-X has been down below since October, so of course the lab had to be reorganized. You could barely tell that MagAO-X used to live there full time!

This is the HEPA blower we use to apply positive pressure to keep the dust out-ish.
One must first tear one’s lab apart before one can put it back together. Our clean room has to be partially disassembled to fit a crane into the lab to finish unloading MagAO-X.
A “clean” room doesn’t stay very clean when it just sits on the floor for 6 months.

Maybe the biggest excitement of the whole thing was evidence that we had water leak in to the box. It must have been rained on (we always blame Miami), and we saw water spots on the mylar blanket and some rust on the shipping frame. So we were super anxious until we finally got to unwrap the instrument in the clean clean room:

Regarding the circle, I wouldn’t worry about that little circle.

Once back in the lab, safe and sound, we began the long process of unpacking.

All the things are shrouded in plastic bags to keep them dust free. We call this step “de-baggie-ing”
It’s a lot of bags
Bag free. But does it work?

For me, the shipment isn’t over until we actually cable the 2040 actuator deformable mirror (I’ll let you work out how many wires it takes to move 2040 actuators . . .) and show that it has survived the trip.

Eden is tightening down a bolt to press the connectors together. It’s a good workout and low stress.

Thanks to the excellent touch of Eden and Sebastiaan we got all the connections made on the first try and sat down and closed the loop.

This is when I start sleeping again.

We were gone long enough that the university’s IT department didn’t recognize us:

Our computers are . . . complicated. When they draw up rules for campus computing systems they just don’t think about 2 kHz real-time control of turbulence and TB/day data rates.

Here is MagAO-X, Phase I, all set up and cabled back in its Tucson home.

But now the fun begins! We’re taking the next year off from the telescope to do some major upgrades, and long overdue repairs. Today we started tearing our MagAO-X apart. The first thing to go is the Pyramid Wavefront Sensor detector, which is on its way back to France for a timing board replacement and to get some (possibly) more sensitive operating modes installed.

Our venerable OCAM-2K EMCCD. This is a key part of what makes MagAO-X go and go fast. But it needs some TLC. Before shipping it, we of course have to drain the glycol from it.

When we head back to LCO for April (or so) 2024 we’ll have 1000 more actuators, new coronagraphs, new LOWFSs, and waaaaaay more software. Maybe fewer github issues too.

Going back into hardware mode is both exciting and a little terrifying. The XWCL will have to stay focused on the tasks at hand and be ready to deal with all the sh$t that won’t work the first time and go about figuring it out. But remember: “having more things just means more things can go right”.

It’s also a time of change in our group. Alex (v2), Joseph, and Avalon have all defended; and Warren is gearing up for his defense in a few weeks. If you’ve been following this blog you know they have all been crucial to the success of MagAO-x and been on many an adventure. The rest of us are now scrambling to scoop up all of their knowledge and make sure we can keep it going without them. We’re also going to miss them!

Here’s a bunch of the XWCL at the usual Friday afternoon spot, celebrating Avalon’s defense, and maybe showing some relief that MagAO-X made it home too.

The song of the day is “Guess Who’s Back” by BEGINNERS & Night Panda. It is, as the kids say, a banger.

Stay tuned for an action packed summer full of travel and conferences, new hardware, probably some more glycol spills, and all of our usual shenanigans.

MagAO-X 2023A Day 24: Homeward Bound

Well that was better. After our December run (trucking strike followed by extremely bad luck with the spatial power spectrum) we were all holding our breath for this run. This time, we got a good week in the cleanroom to tune MagAO-X up, and Cerro Manqui cooperated — delivering 0.27″ seeing at one point. As documented in previous posts, we got a huge amount of work done. We also detected a whole bunch of planets.

MagAO-X Phase 1 commissioning is now complete. XKID was the last thing on the official list, but we also got to the point where we can confidently act like a real instrument. We can point at a star, lock the high-order loop, align a coronagraph, lock the low-order loop, and start taking data, and do it all night long. We can target hop efficiently (for Alycia anyway). We’re achieving contrasts with “e-6” in them, and we are working within 2 lambda/D of stars (though not yet at the same time).

Don’t worry though, the excitement will continue. Everybody says the X in MagAO-X stands for eXtreme. But it really means eXperimental. Kinda like the the Billy o’ Tea, we’re never going to be done commissioning — because we don’t know what we don’t know and are still figuring out what works. The only way to find out is to keep coming back for more.

Here’s a viscacha doing an impression of the current state of the MagAO-X instrument and its keepers:

We’re all starting to blue shift.

After breakfast today we finished packing up. That meant putting the front door on the big box which holds the optical table, and then loading our electronics into its box and doing the always exciting dance with gravity to get it into the shipping position.

Smooth Criminal.
Apparently $1M worth of electronics being on a forklift isn’t as interesting as Sebastiaan’s footwear.

I was given permission to post a pic of myself “being PI”:

Look, if I bust out the label maker it was for a damn good reason and I f-ing meant it. T.B.C. the problem was bad threads on that lifting eye which make it extremely difficult to remove. To quote a wise man, “I’m not even mad…

After the exciting crane ops, the more tedious stuff has to get done. Applying shipping labels (which involves cleaning first) and bolting down various lifting fixtures we don’t want the shippers to use in transit (our entering assumption: if they can find a way to destroy it, they’ll do it).

Joseph cleans a spot for a new shipping label while I idiot proof some lifting fixtures that are for us only.
Eden attaching MagAO-X’s home address in case it gets lost and forgets.

After a quick tidy-up in the clean room, we’re finally bound for home.

LCO is an amazing place, with the best seeing in the world (… most of the time), gorgeous sunsets, comfy beds and great food, an awesome crew, and it somehow doubles as a zoo.

A pack of wild dogs ranged over the observatory this morning. I’ve seen a solitary dog run by up here before, but not a whole pack.
Right before I left an agave in our yard started to put up a stalk. I’m excited to get home to see how it’s going — even though it’s a bitter sweet display.
The internet knows this as “the spirit animal” pose. In my experience it’s actually kinda rare.

Laird hit the road after lunch:

Packing done, time to go.
Jay and Jialin are home. But studying needed to get studied even in the UA club in Houston.
Post-packing malaise.

Our last sunset for 2023A — 2023 in total — was as amazing as always:

We’ll be back — wait until you see what’s next.
One last breakfast.
Venus is still with us. Her friends have moved on after the spectacular “winter” display.

I brought up The Wellerman during our last-night-that-wouldn’t-end because I’ve been listening to Colm McGuinness a lot since my last “end of run” post. I think I gave Eden the wrong impression though: I wasn’t aware of whatever happened on Tik-Tok vis-a-vis sea shanties and t.b.h. am not at all disappointed that she wasn’t either.

Being even more honest, and probably ironic, I don’t actually like sea shanties as a genre. Mainly because it’s usually done in that comedic irish pub style where for some reason someone hiccups during each verse. But the songs are actually working songs, sung to pass the time or keep the beat during dangerous and hard work, far and long from home with only the hostile sea for company. (let’s leave aside that few of the songs we’re talking about here are actually shanties . . . )

I “discovered” Colm McGuinness last December because of his My Mother Told Me. Which is not a shanty, but I have to say Colm seems to get it the way I get it: these are songs that deserve a little bit of epic flare. Examples: Roll Boys Roll and Santiana. [Dude also does an amazing Jolene, background here].

Before going further, note that this all fits in my series of “music I rocked to with Ben” b/c I recently got into sea-oriented music when he sent this with the assertion that they are what we (including two other friends from high school) would look like if we decided to start a sea shanty band. YMMV. (longer story includes that Home Free recently played in Brookings South Dakota, the official hometown of MagAO).

Anyway, the song of the day is a ballad about the journey home from a long and arduous adventure at sea. I love this job, and we’re doing something amazing as a team. I think we’re on the road to achieving our very lofty goals. But every time we do this thing we do at LCO, I have to acknowledge that “it’s a damn tough life, full of toil and strife, we AOistas undergo…”

Colm McGuinness “Old Maui”

Thank god, we’re homeward bound.

MagAO-X 2023A Day 21: The Wind Down

Whelp, it’s getting to be that time. The sun is rising as I type, and it’s officially the 16th. Tonight is our last night on the Clay for 2023A, and tomorrow morning we tear it all apart, box it up, and GTFO.

Another night of awesome seeing let us all catch up on some coding and analysis.

Several coronagraphs where harmed in the making of this image (or at least made to deliver).
And note that none of us were the ones actually studying.
The cleanroom Viznitches were there to say hi as I walked up.
Uno Dos

The conclusion of my concert story, which started with the surprise KoRn and went though an awful Marilyn Manson performance, is the band we actually went to see: Danzig. It was every bit as good as one could hope. We were right in front for the whole show. At one point Glenn Danzig reached out and clasped Ben’s hand – legendary. Here is Danzig’s iconic “Mother”:

Danzig “Mother”. Sorry if you have to “Watch on YouTube”

MagAO-X 2023A Day 15: I do love fig newtons

Just before sunset tonight we held an “enstickening” ceremony to officially add XKID as part of MagAO-X. We’re happy to have the whole XKID team become part of the MagAO-X traveling circus.

Noah peeling the 2023A mission sticker, designed (as always) by Joseph.
In which neither Ben nor I seemed to realize a photo was being taken
Our usual sunset party on the catwalk.

We then had another great LCO night of low winds, slow jet stream, and great seeing. The big engineering achievement of tonight was finally getting the infamous low-order wavefront sensing loop working with all of its modes on the light rejected by a coronagraph. Amazingly, this happened on Avalon’s last night at LCO for 2023A.

Miss LOWFS and her loop

We also welcomed Alycia to the party. As usual, she came well supplied with AO operator food (pringles and wasabi peas of course).

You can tell it’s going well when screensavers turn on.

Screen saver on the coronagraph operator’s workstations!

The night was briefly in danger of being lost due to another tarantula incursion, which trapped our TO Carla on the wrong side of the staircase to the control room. It turned into an excellent opportunity for training and personal growth as Eden was the only human left to run the entire observatory.

Eden holding down the fort while Shelob toyed with the rest of us.
my hand for scale

The obligatory viscacha pics:

Our Fiz the Viz getting ready for sunet
Contemplating the universe.

I started my long story about that one concert I went to that time. The surprise first opener was KoЯN. The expected 2nd opener was Marilyn Manson. And oh my gosh was it bad. We hung out at the front rail for a couple of songs, and all I can say is that it was weird. Maybe if this run goes on for long enough I’ll get to the fun kinda crazy, like seeing Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails tackle his keyboard player and then throw the remains of that keyboard at a different keyboard player. But this was the . . . not fun kind of crazy. Everybody in the place ended up sitting down at the back of the concert hall, like we were trying to get away from Manson and his . . . weirdness and bad music. Just awful.

But later on, I came to like at least one Marilyn Manson song, because of The Matrix. I guess this qualifies as a sea story, so there I was, in Nuclear Power School, studying all of my ass off. I didn’t have a TV, and was really only in my apartment for a few hours a night. So I had never heard anything about The Matrix. One Friday night a few shipmates and I decided to ditch the books and go to a movie, and one of them was really excited about this movie I had never heard of. Having seen no previews, not even a poster, I sat down having absolutely no idea what was about to happen. I think it’s rare experience to take something like that in with no preconceptions. Mind blown.

So anyway, this is on The Matrix sound track and I probably saw it live but have blocked it out:

Marilyn Manson Rock is dead. Yeah, it was a really f-ing weird concert.

MagAO-X 2023A Day 6: Got The Life

I’m a C++ programmer, which means I’ve been here for a week. Consequences include I’m doing laundry already, and I have no idea what day of the week it is (that might be a memory leak joke).

Sebastiaan and Warren arrived today, and immediately started tearing the instrument apart (as expected).

The XKID crew warmed it up today to inspect some things on the inside, which gave us an opportunity to go visit and see the guts up close.

The view down the pipe at the actual super conducting microwave kinetic inductance detector at the heart of XKID. Because it was at room temperature, it was neither microwaving, kineticing, nor inducting at this time.
Noah Swimmer likes to dance with his PhD project.
Ben explains it all to Laird, Joseph, and Avalon, while Noah and Jeb (he’s back there) work.

We’ve been seeing these Neotropical Stick Grasshoppers a bunch. This one was flexing for me after lunch:

It’s a grasshopper?

The machine shop sink outside the cleanroom has been decorated:

Not as desolate as you’d expect

I think one of our cleanroom friends overdid the sun bathing today, and was a little out of it at sunset.

sleepy viz
oh, yawn, are you taking my,yawn, picture? (I didn’t observe actual viz yawn)

As in all things in life, there are ways to separate the people who have really made it. The signs are there if you look:

How to know that one is a Certified Big Deal.
Alpha Cen-rise. The Southern Cross is 60% up and 25% over. Follow the short arm down to the first star, then go one more.

So you could title my series of songs “concerts I went to with my best friend Ben.” Here we switch from country to hard rock and metal, and this will be the first in a sub-series about a specific show. We went to a concert in Omaha to see a band (coming up, no spoilers here), for which there were two openers. The first opener was a total surprise, that no one there had ever heard of (we didn’t even know there was going to be a first opener). I’m not trying to be that guy, you know, cool before it was cool.

They come out, and I’m grumpy “who the F is this?” And then Ben looks at me and says “are they . . . do they have … bagpipes?”. And then it was on, into the mosh pit we went. The band was KoRn (I can’t do the R right here). Awesome show. Ben still has a dollar bill signed by Jonathan Davis in the CD case he bought that night. KoRn got huge shortly after and we get to say we saw them when.

So here’s my favorite KoRn song:

Got The Life by Korn

Update: I am a big enough deal that I travel with my own personal tech support. Thanks to Joseph I can now write KoЯN.