2017B Day 4: Jared Says The Blog Rules Say This Title Can Be Anything

Tonight was the first science night of 2017B for the Giant Accreting Protoplanet Survey (GAPlanetS). Unfortunately, the timing of the run is such that all of our best targets are reaching their highest point in the sky as the sun sets. This is important because stars rotate the most rapidly with respect to our instrument right around when they reach their highest point, and maximizing rotation is key to our data reduction technique. For that reason, we usually try to center our observations around this “transit” point in order to maximize rotation.

So we started the night by trying really hard to lock on a nearly 12th magnitude star in early twilight. Hernan heroically acquired the star all of about 5min after sunset, but the AO system just couldn’t handle the twilight, so we moved on to a backup target. Unfortunately, seeing was also not as good as we’ve come to expect here at Magellan – hovering near an arcsecond for most of the night. We got a couple of nice long datasets in variable conditions, with occasional setbacks due to the adaptive optics loop breaking because of rapid changes in seeing and high winds.

In better news, my student Clare got her first taste of instrument operation and did a great job running VisAO for most of the night. Here’s a picture of her doing her thing.

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Fingers crossed for better weather tomorrow, but the forecast is a bit dire and I used up all of my good weather karma on my eclipse trip to Idaho last week, so I’m not super optimistic. In honor of that amazing event, the song of the day…



2016B Day 17: Introducing MagAO 2K

Today was a bit rough, with high winds and heavy cloud cover. But… through the clouds… a beacon of light. Specifically a kick-a** high resolution AO-corrected PSF without the ever-present wind butterfly because… [drumroll] the MagAO adaptive secondary mirror is now officially deforming to correct for the atmosphere at 2000 times per second, twice as fast as before.

Check out the images below, which clearly show the improvement from running at 1kHz (left) to running at 2kHz (right). Despite poorer conditions, the 0.9 micron MagAO 2K image has a Strehl ratio of 50%!

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Congratulations to everyone, but especially Jared, who is already moving on to thinking about the next big exciting MagAO upgrade now that this one is a success.


And in honor of Alfio leaving tonight … one of the few Italian songs that I know, and one that seems appropriate in light of his AO prowess… L’ombra del Gigante (the Shadow of the Giant).


2015B Day 25: Bah Humbug

I’m glad to not have to come up with anything terribly clever to say tonight, since Jared and Katie already gave away the 2015B blog award (deservedly, to Amali Vaz).

Here is why I’m having my own private pity party right now…

conditions and a zoom in on the wind data…


My two nights are up, and unfortunately I’m not going to have much to show for them science-wise. This is through no fault of Jared and Katie, who went to heroic efforts to swap all of the BCU fibers in just 15min last night. Tragically, the wind made their efforts mostly moot. We did manage to observe one target as it was setting away from the wind though, and there’s still hope for me to get some more 2015B data. Alycia Weinberger arrived today and will be observing for the next 5 nights. Some of my targets overlap with hers, so I may be able to piggyback on her observations. Fingers crossed for the stars (good seeing, no clouds, low winds, and dry air) to align tomorrow!

Alberto’s Hero song last night reminded me of a Japanese song called “Hero” that I used to sing at karaoke a lot when I was living there in 2004-05. In fact, the only versions of it that I could find on YouTube were of people singing it at karaoke. This guy is pretty good though and you can see the original music video on the TV. In fact, even if you don’t like the singing, you should play the real song in a separate browser and watch this video on mute so that you can see all the sweet dance moves.

Speaking of sweet dance moves, MJ always cheers me up…

The Birds and The Bees of Planet Formation

MagAO’s revolutionary visible light capabilities have allowed us to directly image a planet residing inside a circumstellar disk gap for the first time. These images, of the forming protoplanet LkCa 15 b, provide the first incontrovertible evidence of accretion onto a forming planet.

In fact, the study joined two independent results from Arizona facilities – interferometric data from the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham in Arizona and direct images from our very own MagAO system at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The MagAO data was obtained by myself (Kate Follette), Laird Close, Jared Males, and Katie Morzinski as part of the Giant Accreting Protoplanet Survey (GAPplanetS). The final product: images of the forming protoplanet LkCa15b glowing in the light of ultra hot hydrogen gas. This is an indication that the planet is still growing, because Hydrogen gas glows at this characteristic wavelength of light when it is in the process of falling onto a massive object – in this case a protoplanet! LkCa15 b is visible glowing in Hydrogen-alpha, but unlike our previous discovery of HD142527B, it is NOT glowing in ordinary visible light. This indicates that the underlying object is very low mass – the first true GAPplanet!


Read about the entire study, which combined our H-alpha data with near-infrared interferometric data from the Large Binocular Telescope collected by Steph Sallum and Josh Eisner, at the links below. Steph and Josh were able to isolate light from two more protoplanet candidates – LkCa15c and d, and saw LkCa15b in the same place as the MagAO direct images, providing independent confirmation of its identity as a forming protoplanet!


The Nature Article

UA Press Release

Stanford Press Release