2015B Day 21: Surprise Surprise

While it is Day 21 of operations for the MagAO team, it’s only Night 2 of MagAO observing for me! But it is my Night 9 of observing in total: I just finished a seven-night run with the Gemini Planet Imager and mountain-hopped over from Cerro Pachón to Las Campanas on Sunday to join Katie, Jared, and company.

While last night and tonight involved re-orienting my mental muscles to speak Adaptive Secondary, our visiting observer, Julio, was busy flexing the rotational and wave-front sensing muscles of MagAO. With nice stable conditions (0″.5-0″.6 seeing) and clear skies, faint and off-axis targets were fair game — after some collective brainstorming on how best to set up rotator angles. (Those are always so tricky.) And thus Surprise #1: Closing the loop on a target of R~15.5 with only 16 photons per subaperture? You got it!

[screen shot evidence to be added]

Surprise #2: My journey between mountaintops involved an astonishing realization for me yesterday. The past two times I’ve come up to Magellan from La Serena, I’ve always immediately dozed off in the car — typically right after leaving La Serena’s town limits. The drive is about 3 hours from La Serena to Las Campanas Observatory, along the Panamericana Norta/Ruta 5:

One day of travel (about 5-6 hours): Start at Gemini Observatory (Cerro Pachón, bottom), take carry-all bus to La Serena, take observatory transport up to Las Campanas (top)
One day of travel: Start at Gemini Observatory (Cerro Pachón, bottom), take carry-all bus to La Serena (about 2 hours), take observatory transport up to Las Campanas (top; about 3 hours).

However, this time, I stayed awake quite a bit longer, and discovered to my delight that the route takes us right along the coast. I wondered at the time if it was an alternate way compared to my previous journeys (I’ve only woken up in the mountain terrain regions before). I wasn’t speedy enough to take a photo myself, but this is the gem of an area I glimpsed in my drowsy state:

Beautiful Chilean beaches by the little seaside town of Caleta Los Hornos. (Photo from Giuseppe Dossi, worldmapz)

Shortly thereafter, my nocturnal schedule won out and I fell right back asleep in the car. Jared and Katie assured me that the drive is, indeed, the usual route — so next time I will try to stay awake even longer. Who knows what I will discover then!

One nap later, I arrived to the observatory just before dinnertime. The late timing meant I wasn’t able to submit a night lunch request. However, I figured there was an ample supply of fruit, cheese, and cereal to tide me over at the telescope, and wasn’t too worried. Near midnight, Katie kindly realized I hadn’t a night lunch of my own and offered me a fabled LCO Empanada, as she and Jared had some of their own to share. However, Mauricio overheard the exchange, and sprung to action: “Oh, you don’t have a night lunch? Do you want an empanada? Don’t worry — I know a guy.” He made a quick call, and a few minutes later Jorge dropped by from the Baade telescope with a delivery (Surprise #3):

The Pastry, the Myth, the Legend: The Las Campanas Observatory Sunday Empanada.
The Pastry, the Myth, the Legend: The Las Campanas Observatory Sunday Empanada.

The photo doesn’t even quite do it justice (though the dramatic effect is enhanced by Google Camera’s “Lens Blur” feature — incidentally, a super fascinating read if you enjoy learning about image processing!) Mine had seafood stuffing — so delicious. I was very thankful for everyone’s generosity! And it’s no wonder why the New York Times has written articles about this famous food.

Surprise #4: I think springtime is moth season here. A few adventurous and particularly robust ones have wandered into the control room, flittering about the lights and casting bird-sized shadows on our keyboards while we work. Unfortunately, their dive bombs can be a bit distracting… Especially when inter-species warfare occurs right overhead. At one point, something that looked awfully like a (non-poisonous, Hernan assured us) scorpion descended from the overhead lights and settled on the ground right next to our chairs.

It seemed one of the moths and the scorpion duked it out in the overhead lights, and the vanquished scorpion took a tumble down toward us. Or… Perhaps it was a flying scorpion? Unfazed, it skittered away while we discussed the finer points of whether or not the scorpion family has an airborne subspecies in South America. Until…

Katie: “It seemed like it was flying, and then I saw it run away…”
Jared: “Hmm, where did it go? Where was it headed?”
Katie: “Right toward you!”
Jared: “… Wait, what?”

Then this happened:

Jared and Julio lunge underneath the desk to examine the mystery insect. (Sorry, I only got a blurry action shot!)
Jared and Julio lunging underneath the desk to examine the mystery creature. Sorry — could only get a blurry action shot!

Flashlight in hand, Jared and Julio spotted our insect (or arthropod?)  friend beneath the desk, presumably until it crawled away toward greener, moth-free pastures. I’m not sure we ever answered the question of flying scorpion existence though — we await confirmation from our entomologist readers.

We had two more surprises last night — a little family of baby birds nesting right outside the control room door (pleasant surprise), and some baffling sources of astigmatism that became increasingly worse throughout the night (not-so-great surprise) — but those might be best saved for later pending photographic evidence and further investigation, respectively.

And to close out the past 48 hours filled with unforeseen, fortuitous, and/or unpredictable things, here is an appropriately titled song:

EDIT! I have been informed that the 2015B music rules are a little different this time around, and I need to come up with a different selection — one that is somehow related to the previous post’s music (Jared’s choice of Mother by Danzig).

Okay, so here is my alternate selection:

Unnecessarily Complicated Explanation: I actually haven’t heard the band Danzig before today, but the name sounded familiar. (Turns out Danzig is so named for the surname of the lead singer, Glenn Danzig.) Google tells me that Danzig is also an alternative name for the city of Gdańsk in Poland (which incidentally has a rich history, particularly in both the first and second World Wars). This made me curious about which popular songs people in Poland are listening to right now, so I looked up their current top 10 charts. And the first song in Polish on that list is W Dobra Strone (“In the Right Direction”) by Dawid Podsiadlo. It’s pretty catchy!

MagAO at Spirit of Lyot 2015 Recap: Day 1

As a number of MagAO team members are currently at the “In the Spirit of Bernard Lyot 2015” Conference in Montréal, Québec, we’ll have a couple blog posts this week discussing this exciting direct imaging-focused conference. Spirit of Lyot is a large meeting held every 3-5 years focused on the imaging of extrasolar planets and circumstellar disks. Along with all of the hot-off-the-press science results in the field, the meeting is particularly focused on the innovative new instrumentation, and technologies in development or currently on-sky to pave the way to new discoveries.

A great overview with some very cool MagAO updates were shared yesterday by Laird, the second talk of the conference:

(sorry for the blurry photographic evidence, it really is Laird! The conference hall is very large…)

Laird highlighted the many unique capabilities of MagAO and the strengths of going to visible wavelengths. As VisAO has demonstrated soundly, visible light observations offer many scientific advantages: you can detect strong emission lines like H-alpha, you have a better chance of distinguishing object characteristics with wider color-magnitude diagrams, can obtain a nice estimate of the extinction due to dust, and of course achieve much improved spatial resolution! With the adaptive secondary, which is more robust to lost actuators, MagAO’s performance on-sky in terms of RMS wavefront error is ~135 nm and right at the error budget from the lab estimates, providing ideal resolution to do this science with exceptional sensitivity.

Laird also made sure to talk about the many exciting recent results and ones coming soon, both disks and planet detection/characterization, with a run down of projects by Ya-Lin (new paper just hit arXiv! on the low-mass companion 1RXS J1609B), Jared, Katie, and Kate — more coming soon on these last two projects as the talks are being given later today!

Later in the afternoon, Gilles Otten, who was at MagAO with Matt Kenworthy back in early May (see their blogs from that run here), presented brand-new instrumentation results from testing their new vortex apodizing phase plate (VAPP) coronagraphs. In case you missed it, there are a ton of details in yesterday’s blog recapping the press release. But here are a few photos, too:


Gilles gave a great talk with very exciting observations showing the two complementary PSFs from this coronagraphic system and the excellent contrast on Clio. A few of the first targets were a few famous stellar binaries (Alpha Cen, Beta Cen):


And the performance on-sky was very close to the predicted performance!


You can also follow along with all of the updates using the hashtag #LYOT2015 on Twitter and Facebook! Click here to see the real-time Twitter results.


2015A Day 41: Last MagAO Science Night of 2015A!

Well, the last FITS data files of 2015A have been read out, and MagAO is in the process of being tucked away for a cozy rest until 2015B. I had the last night of the entire run, and just like back in November, we observed well into morning twilight — no photon left uncollected! I’m so excited to see what these data have in store.

Here are some highlights from the last science night:

– We finished the last night on MagAO with nice steady 0.5” seeing — really great conditions, especially at the end of the night. Cerro Manqui and its surrounding atmosphere continued to smile upon us!

– Pyramidal chocolate (Toblerone): the ideal confection to consume while using a pyramid wavefront sensor. Thanks Katie and Laird!

(most of) The chocolate pyramid. Not so great for sensing wavefronts, but significantly more delicious.

– I got to run Clio and the AO system at the same time! (briefly.) I’m not up to TJ’s triple-threat AO-VisAO-Clio skills yet, but hopefully next time I can learn to run VisAO too. 🙂

– Jordan learning to run AO with Laird, and running the system for my program (awesome tiger hat sadly not pictured), which was super helpful.

– Sniffles throughout the control room… Not a positive highlight, but since almost everyone caught the same cold virus, we did have quite the symphony of sniffles going on.

– Jared unwittingly demonstrates his VisAO spidey senses: To start putting everything away, the team had staggered waking shifts: Laird at 8 am, Jared at noon, Katie in the afternoon (after she ran VisAO and AO for me at the end of night). Therefore, everyone departed the summit at different times during the night. Jared went back to the dorms and to sleep around 3-4 am, but woke up spontaneously a couple hours later and asked us how things were going… precisely when we ran into some camera/GUI issues with VisAO. The uncanny timing can only be attributed to his innate connection — shall we say a sixth sense — to VisAO and subconsciously hearing its cry for help.

After taking the last dark frames of the run this morning, I went up to the chamber to see what Katie and Laird were doing to put Clio away and start taking off the adaptive secondary mirror. Many hot-pink zip ties were detached (the zip ties holding up wires/cabling are color-coded, so you know exactly which ones to remove at the end of the run — so clever!)

Katie and Laird produce a zip-tie battlefield as they get ready to unplug Clio.

I also got to see the telescope tip down, as Laird and the many amazing engineering folks started to safely remove the secondary:

A snug fit within the telescope dome. Notice the curved handrail for the secondary.

Then, well into the morning, it was time to head back to catch a couple hours’ snooze before taking the van back to the La Serena airport.

9 am, after a good night of data collection.

Jordan and I had the same flight to Santiago, so we had some extra time to grab lunch at the airport (best place to get gigantic sandwiches!):

This photo doesn’t do justice to the immensity of his club sandwich. We sadly missed empanada day, but the airport restaurant was surprisingly good!

As Jared and Katie mentioned in the blog, I arrived a few days early to help with observing before my night. Other highlights have included:

– The first-ever sunny day I’ve seen in La Serena (from the Las Campanas Observatory headquarters, where the astronomers wait in between landing at La Serena and heading up to the summit):

LCO headquarters.
Sunny La Serena! Not so when we left.


– My first-ever Cerro Manqui viscacha sightings! So precious.

Lurking in plain sight…
Aww! The noble vizcacha, also known as “wise, weird rabbits with cinnamon bun tails”


– Some fantastic sunsets (Venus too), though not given proper justice with only my cell phone camera:

sunset1 venussunset

This has been an really exciting opportunity for me to learn lots more about MagAO! And it’s been great fun to overlap and interact with the other observers on Clay and at Baade: Alycia, Amanda, Atom, Jordan, Dave, Nestor, et al. And of course, a great experience to learn some new skills from the resident AOistas. Thanks again for having me, and for providing excellent support during my science night too. 🙂

Many thanks to Hernan for taking this photo — and to both Hernan and Jorge for their great telescope operation support during my night too!

Time for music! It’s probably safe to say that MagAO+VisAO+Clio2 is one of the “pride and joy”s of Magellan/Arizona, and so I leave the last science night with an excellent blues piece along these lines. But first, you MUST listen to the wonderful cover, performed on nothing less than a child’s Cars™-brand guitar from Walmart:

And the original by Stevie Ray Vaughan:

Alas, no Daughtry or Weird Al covers were available in this case. But never fear! There’s always some of that Weird Al brand of magic to be found:

Until next time! 🙂

2014B Day 24: Observing ’til daybreak

The past few weeks have been full of exciting firsts* for me: first trip to South America, first real Spanish conversations, first taste of mote con huesillos, and especially exciting — first time observing at Magellan, and first time using MagAO!

*Unfortunately, there’s not been a first sighting of the famed viscachas — or any other high desert mammals, apart from astronomers and observatory staff! — but I don’t leave Las Campanas until this afternoon, so perhaps there is more time…
Taken during the middle of my first sunset at the Clay telescope.


A splendid afternoon view looking back toward the lodge, taken during the daily jaunt up the hill.
A splendid afternoon view looking back toward the lodge, taken during the daily jaunt up the hill.

I’m a graduate student at Arizona State, but am on a fellowship in Santiago until the end of January, so I was fortunate to arrive a couple days in advance of my run to learn the ropes and help Katie and Jared on their marathon MagAO run (so I had the lovely opportunity to overlap with Kate and Jordan too!) It was great fun training to operate Clio and learning about the AO system and VisAO.

Of course, I had to say hello in person!
Of course, I had to say hello in person 🙂

In terms of last night and tonight, everything went incredibly well — better than I could have expected! We had literally the best seeing I’ve ever encountered, anywhere. That number in the left upper corner is, indeed, 0.34 arcseconds:

Jared: "It's criminal how good this seeing is!"
Jared: “It’s criminal how good this seeing is!”

These fantastic conditions, coupled with a well-behaving AO system, meant that we powered through all my science targets for a whopping 38 targets — 22 of which were observed tonight! It seems this may be a record of some sort.

Slewing to lots of targets provided many opportunities to refine the sweet-spot landing between acquiring a star from the telescope with MagAO and placing it on Clio, and Jared and Katie worked on that in addition to running AO and VisAO while I was at the helm for Clio. Our quick observing cadence also meant little time for breaks during integrations, but I snuck outside to try some nighttime photos (difficult without a tripod!):

Inside, Clio and VisAO diligently integrate away under stunning skies. Can you recognize the asterism on the right?

Even at the end of a busy night, some late RA targets also meant observing well into (nearly beyond?) the morning twilight. Let no photon go unmeasured! Here is what it looked like immediately after I was finished observing this morning:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.40.56 AM

I can’t believe how quickly these past few nights went by! I am sad to depart the excellent company of Katie and Jared, who are the most stalwart endurance observers I’ve ever met. They do an incredible job of keeping MagAO a well-oiled machine! I am so looking forward to coming back and observing, and helping out with future runs.

Katie and Jared follow their well-worn path back to a full day's sleep.
At dawn, Katie and Jared follow their well-worn path back to a full day’s sleep.
Every sunrise was breathtaking.
Each sunrise was breathtaking.

Finally, given the fact we finished at 6:17 am, I can think of no more appropriate song than this:

Until next time!

– Kim