MagAO at Spirit of Lyot Recap: Days 2-5

MagAO has been well represented here at the Spirit of Lyot conference, despite being a much smaller team than the other big AO planet finding instruments. Here are a few more pictures from our presentations over the past few days.

Me presenting early results form our GAPplanet Survey (exciting results to be announced soon!)


Katie, in a convincing Laird Close disguise, presents her work on characterization of the Beta Pic exoplanet.


Kim, impressing the crowd at her poster.


TJ talking about his MagAO debris disk results.


2015A Day 21: Insusceptible to Shame

If you read carefully between the lines of yesterday’s blog post (which were mostly complaints about me trying to do science – hmph!), you may have noticed that we didn’t say anything about using Clio. Because we didn’t. At all. All night long.

We didn’t want to panic any of our upcoming observers, but Clio was down for the count yesterday. We started with mild instrument shaming to try and get her back up and running.

2015-05-17 01.59.04


Unfortunately, it appears that Clio is insusceptible to shame.

The good news is that since we’re fessing up on the blog, that means we fixed it eventually! There were a few rabbit holes and false starts, but in the end we were able to bypass a faulty motor controller and get Clio back to work. Here are a few highlights from the process, which involved taking apart most of the motor control box and using tools of various levels of sophistication to test communications between the six Clio motors.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.23.19 AM

2015-05-17 07.59.36

2015-05-17 20.19.30

Once Jared and Katie identified the faulty motor (I mostly held stuff and made coffee, but it was fun for me to learn about hardware… and software… and firmware… and motor instruction manuals), they were able to bypass it and get all the other motors spinning again. The bypass makes operating Clio a bit more of a hassle in that Katie now has to run out to the platform and move the field stop wheel by hand. Luckily, this is one of the less common motor moves for Clio.

At this point, I feel that it is my duty to point out to all future observers that Jared and Katie have gone to heroic efforts to keep MagAO up and running in 2015A. Since I arrived, they’ve foregone sleep and breakfast (which involves fresh squeezed juice, so is a tough thing to give up!) most days to ensure that we maximize time on sky.  And they’re only a third of the way through a loooooong run of loooooong winter nights. So take this as my admonition to be nice and to be grateful when you arrive. Perhaps signs of gratitude are in order. They claim to be all set on wasabi peas and instant coffee, but I’m sure you can think of something.

I’d also like to correct my statement from yesterday. Jared doesn’t hate science. He just hates MY science. Because tonight, when it came down to one of HIS targets, he changed his tune quite a bit about the wind. So here’s another “find the problem” blog challenge. I will happily mail a MagAO sticker to the first blog reader who e-mails to tell us what’s wrong with this picture.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.30.56 AM

In other news, it was empanada Sunday today, so that brightened things up considerably.

We ended the night with some astrometric calibrations, which included taking very pedagogically interesting images like these. So here’s another sticker-winning opportunity. Tell us what (a) camera we’re using, (b) observing mode we’re in and (c) star we’re guiding on (the right one or the left one?). If you get 3/3, we’ll send you a sticker!

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.29.32 AM

I’m headed home tomorrow, which is bittersweet. It’s always a lot of fun to be here, and I got some awesome data, but I’m anxious to get home to this guy.


So here is the song that he wakes up singing every morning, which has been blissfully out of my head for a few days, and is solidly reimplanted now that I decided to post it to the blog.

Quotes of the Day:

various unrepeatable comments about Clio

“I’m just going to go move the telescope” -Alberto, running out into the dome
“Wait, WHAT?” – Jared
“Is he gonna push it?” -Katie

“USNO is a Joke! …. The catalog, not the organization” -[former naval officer] Jared Males

[4:52:54 AM] Vanessa Bailey: i’m headed home. thanks so much to all of you for working so hard to get the motors working! i hope the magao uptime clock is monotonically increasing from here on out!
[4:53:09 AM] Jared Males: uh no
[4:53:14 AM] Jared Males: we just broke the telescope
[4:53:28 AM] Vanessa Bailey: oh no, really???
[4:53:31 AM] Jared Males: yep
[4:53:48 AM] Vanessa Bailey: i’m sorry
[4:54:07 AM] Jared Males: at least we don’t have to troubleshoot this one
[4:54:11 AM] Jared Males: it’s kinda nice to get to watch
[4:54:19 AM] Vanessa Bailey: i know the feeling
[4:54:30 AM] Vanessa Bailey: guilt and relief at the same time
[4:54:48 AM] Jared Males: Unbelievably, this is possibly Clio’s fault.  It all started when KT went out to hard reset the electronics.
[4:55:01 AM] Vanessa Bailey: bah
[4:55:09 AM] Vanessa Bailey: she just walked too loudly
[4:55:49 AM] Jared Males: this is kt – no i didnt!
[4:55:59 AM] Jared Males: we were transiting at like 89.2 deg and the limit is 89.3
[4:56:18 AM] Vanessa Bailey: that’s pretty damn high
[4:56:58 AM] Vanessa Bailey:
[4:58:09 AM] Vanessa Bailey: well, i hope it gets resolved quickly
[4:58:16 AM] Vanessa Bailey: good luck!!
[4:58:36 AM] Jared Males: thanks.  we’re back.  Alberto just told us he had to use [redacted content]
[4:58:40 AM] Jared Males: this is getting awesome
[4:58:47 AM] Vanessa Bailey: heck yeah

2015A Day 19: I’m A Sucker for Sucker Troughs

With much regret, I begin my first blog post of my last run as a Magellan observer.  I’m taking a brief hiatus from my new role as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford (working on the very exciting Gemini Planet Imager) to rejoin the MagAO team this week.

My goal for these three days is to complete second epoch observations for the Giant Accreting Protoplanet Survey (GAPplanetS). Here’s a diagram showing the basic idea, but with an accreting star rather than a protoplanet. The top image is in a filter that’s centered on an emission line of hydrogen called “hydrogen alpha”. Accreting objects glow at this wavelength. The bottom image is a so-called “continuum” image, at a wavelength where nothing special is happening so we just see normal stellar emission. Notice that the relative brightness of the two stars is reversed in the top and bottom images. That’s because the secondary star in this system (top) is accreting, so it’s brighter at H-alpha than the primary (bottom) is. We’re trying to use the same trick (plus many more complicated processing techniques since planets are much fainter than stars) to detect forming protoplanets.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 6.43.21 AM

In keeping with the spirit of this 2015A run, we had a couple of minor glitches this evening (dead wind monitor, software slowdown), but nothing Katie and Jared couldn’t handle. Weather-wise, we were a bit better off than yesterday. No clouds, but we did have a bout of high winds. Jared forced wisely advised us to close for a while during a particularly bad spike of high winds and poor seeing, but I wore him down with my minute by minute countdown of improving conditions.

On the verge of reopening, Katie introduced me to the term “sucker-trough”. Much like a sucker hole, a sucker trough is a respite from bad observing conditions (seeing in this case) that is just long enough to convince you to do all the work of reopening before the bad conditions return.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 5.25.17 AM Luckily, conditions got incrementally better after that so we never quite had to close again.

On a personal note, this has been my first observing run ever where I got off a plane and jumped right into observing (rather than arriving a day or two ahead of time and getting acclimated). I think this is the new normal now that I’m a parent, but luckily sleep deprivation is one thing I’ve gotten better at since having a child!

I’ve only been here for a day and already need to clarify some nasty lies inaccuracies from yesterday’s blog.

1) My website does not contain ads anymore for anything except an awesome Quantitative Literacy assessment instrument for general education science courses.

2) I am not afraid of scorpions. See the following text exchange with my husband for an explanation.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 5.05.55 AM

The song(s) of the day today are by the lovely and talented Anais Mitchell, my former college suitemate, now a successful folk singer. I actually set out to be the first to post a song without a cover, but even Anais’ early songs, the ones she was singing when we were in college, have been covered. Of course they have, because she’s amazingly talented. Enjoy!

Here are three of Anais’ songs:

And, per official 2015A blog rules, three covers of those songs:


2014B Day 22: On every run, a little rain must fall

Metaphorical rain in this case, not actual rain – don’t panic!

I’m told there’s a blog post like this one on every run, though I’ve been lucky enough to avoid being here for them so far. Tonight, we had a few technical difficulties. For those of you in the know, this picture speaks volumes.

Photo Nov 17, 3 00 06 AM

In good news, today was empanada Sunday. I didn’t take a picture of mine as I was scarfing them down, but I did take a picture of my delightful dinner. Those things that look like pears are actually cheesy potatoes in the shape of pears. So creative!

Photo Nov 16, 6 52 25 PM

I’m headed down the mountain tomorrow, and want to give one last shout-out to Jared and Katie, the heart and soul of MagAO. [Don’t worry Laird, you can be the brain.] They’re down here away from home for a whole 6 weeks, cheerfully and tirelessly supporting observers on good nights (most) and bad (very few) AND blogging about it so that us slackers who get to go home can stay informed. You guys are the best!

Here’s a picture that Jared took of the “Three Ks” tonight. Good luck guys! Can’t wait to hear about your clever fix tomorrow.

I think tonight calls for a motivational song.

Update By Jared (after the Sun came up): Well that was horrific. I won’t try to explain all the things, but we managed to get MagAO back up off the mat and get some work done. During a final round of troubleshooting as the Sun was rising, we took these images:

The theta-1 Ori C binary in Trapezium. The image on the right contains no dirty tricks (no SAA = no shift-and-add, it means we didn’t align individual frames before stacking).

If you’ve been following MagAO, you’ve seen our previous images of these two stars. It looks like they’re about 4 mas closer now (caution: that’s control room astrophysics, which means it’s wrong in at least one way!).

Time for bed. Thanks for your help the last week Kate. See you back in Tucson.

Here’s another song with relevant lyrics.

Vanessa: “Well, if it’s a software bug, you know I’ll uncover it!”

A picture Kate took a couple days ago — this time without the shift-and-add.

2014B Day 18: A Spontaneous Promotion

Tonight started rather auspiciously with the best green flash that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, neither Jared nor I got a good picture, but here’s one I took during an  early commissioning run. Trust us – it was epic.


During twilight, Jared and Povilas added gaffers tape to the guider CCD. In the end though, they decided that the glint we saw yesterday during acquisition of new targets was probably the moon.  Still, it never hurts to have more baffling.

Photo Nov 12, 8 26 37 PM

It was also discovered that when you immerse a roll of tape in liquid nitrogen, its adhesive properties are substantially altered. The details of how this experiment came to be conducted remain somewhat mysterious, and the result is awaiting independent verification.

I got to try my hand at operating the AO system today, which was fun for me and largely uneventful. The system runs so nicely these days (knock on wood), that I had lots of time to be mesmerized by turbulent patterns moving across the mirror at 200-1000Hz.

I learned that the main barrier to smooth AO operation is actually lack of real estate on the computer screen. So many GUIs have to be open at once that strategic placement is required, and everyone has a different opinion about where the “right” place for each one is. Here’s what I arrived at tonight with some help from Jared and Katie.

Photo Nov 13, 3 21 35 AM copy

Note that there are lots of windows peeking out from behind. That’s so that I can get to them quickly when I need them.

I also decided that it was time for a promotion on the MagAO team. You see, everyone else has a nice mug with their name and role on the team monogramed on it. Here are Jared and Katie holding theirs.

Photo Nov 13, 3 22 25 AM

Luckily, we have a nice label maker, and some blank mugs, so I was able to correct this egregious oversight.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 3.40.47 AM copy

Quote of the Day:

Francois, in reference to a newly discovered triple system (see pic): “Let’s see what color it is”

Jos, looking at the image in an orange/brown color table: “It’s a bit brown actually, but if you want I could make it blue”


My husband is home alone with our son this week, and the poor guy has food poisoning, so the song of the day is for my family. Thanks boys for letting me be here!