MagAO-X Takes Montréal: Meanwhile back home…

While the whole group is living up up north, those of us left behind in the sweltering heat and humidity of Tucson in July got a treat today:

Everyone safe and sound in the loading dock staging room. The big white box in the back is MagAO-X, the foreground is the electronics box, and the grey box is our control computer.

That’s right, that’s MagAO-X back home all safe and sound and looking none the worse for wear from her journey home from Chile! Delivery was kind enough to happen when literally everyone from the group is in Montreal or otherwise elsewhere, except moi and undergrad researcher Roz Roberts.

Your’s truly and Roz, dripping sweat

Folks it was a rough one. After about 30 mins of watching the crane and maneuvering the dollies in the 6 million degree heat and 5000% humidity (I measured), I was pretty wiped. And all we did was move it off the loading dock into the staging room. Unpacking comes next week, so stay tuned for the next update!

I attempted to replicate Joseph’s excellent video montages to middling success:

Apologies for the vertical video, I didn’t realize my error until it was too late. I will never apologize for hamster dance.

The real heroes in the sweltering heat while I take video.

Hope y’all are enjoying the cool Canadian weather.


The song of the day is Heat Waves by Glass Animals.

MagAO-X Across the Pond: Day 3

Where are days 1 & 2 you ask? Um we didn’t blog those. *Sheepish grin*

Your favorite MagAO-X team is living it up in Leiden, Netherlands this week at the Spirit of Lyot conference – a conference devoted to bringing exoplanet direct imaging science and instrument builders together to unite the tech with the science. I’ve had a great time so far! This is my first astronomy in-person conference post-pandemic, and it’s great that every talk and poster is directly related to science I am excited about. I’ve met so many people both known and unknown to me previously, and am feeling re-invigorated and re-inspired about the work I’m doing.

Today was the first MagAO-X-focused talk by Leiden’s own Dr. Sebastiaan Haffert. He talked about his integral field spectrograph addition to MagAO-X, VIS-X. Here are some action shots:

MagAO-X team member Olivier Guyon and MagAO-X team friend Kate Follette also graced us with exciting science talks today. Additionally, I have a poster at the conference, which you can see here, and Joseph Long also has a poster!

Tomorrow will be action packed with talks by audience favorite Dr. Jared Males, and surprise special guest Joseph Long with an exclusive set delivering Kevin Wagner’s talk who is home with a surprise special covid.

Stay tuned!

PS – Please forgive any typos as they gave us all 8 beer tokens each and only two days to spend them, and I am feeling the effects at the moment… Cheers!


In honor of all the friends new and old, the song of the day is I Have Friends from the hit TV show Crazy Ex Girlfriend:

MagAO-X 2022A Day 28: Pack it up Pack it in

After a grueling day yesterday we were all blessed with a full 12 hours of sleep last night. And it was long overdue, especially for our hard-charging PI and Post-Doc. So with a renewed spirit, everyone feeling much more themselves today, we joined the LCO crew in getting MagAO-X buttoned up and ready to ship back to Tucson.

And thank goodness for the crew! They are professionals and did most of the hard work and crane ops today.

Mauricio (black shirt) leads the LCO crew in getting the cling-wrapped and foil-wrapped MagAO-X up onto the shock mount for the trip back to AZ.

The two biggest items to get ready are MagAO-X and the electronics rack. Both are wrapped up and stuffed into giant white wooden boxes via crane for shipping.

Sebastiaan wrapping the electronics box in cling wrap. And wrapping… and wrapping… and wrapping………..

The electronics box all wrapped and lookin’ good.
Seriously the scariest part as the electronics box is lowered GENTLY onto its side.
EEEE the nerves!
PI Jared securing the lifting rings on top of the MagAO-X box.
Old shipping labels had to be replaced with new ones.
The front panel to the MagAO-X box is a beast!
A datalogger attached to the shock mount to record the forces the instrument experiences on its journey.

There is a third box to ship containing the operating computer (not pictured), and a whole bunch of stuff that lives down here full time and is not traveling to Tucson.

A clean cleanroom awaiting our return in November.

The vizzys were in excellent form today.

We ended well before dinner and enjoyed some rare down time before our last meal at LCO. And one more sunset to close us out.

Thanks to Joseph, Jared, and Laird for the pics in this post. Stay tuned for tomorrow as we journey back north.


I wanted the song of the day to be Jump Around by House of Pain (You know: “Pack it up pack it in, let me begin…”) but the copyright refused to let me embed. So here is “Pack Up” by Eliza Doolittle. And this song rocks y’all.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 21: It was bound to happen eventually.

Whelp, here we are. After 20 days of the most excellent weather and 9 nights of impeccable seeing (last night was truly remarkable observing conditions!) we have finally hit a night with some clouds. We spent some time on a target for one of our collaborators and got her some good data, but as I write this (nearing midnight) the dome is closed and we are switching to the lab light source to do some engineering.

Here is a gif of the all-sky camera for about 10 mins, so you can see what we’re lookin’ at:

The LCO weather map showing clouds rolling in over our little red dot.

So MagAO-X got some engineering time and we took a sci-fi break thanks to Joseph’s projector he brought.

Featuring the incomparable Thomas Jane as Miller in S1 of the Expanse
Hernan the telescope operator joins us for some Expanse.
Jared says: “Photo capturing that the Grand-PI, PI, and Uncle Sagan Fellow are in the control room working while the grad students and T.O. watch a movie in the lounge.  #clouds #lifeatlco”
Jared gets a pic of the closed telescope with all the clouds.

So in lieu of data, I present to you, for no particular reason, viscachas as sad celebrities.


In honor of the peaches in syrup they like to serve for dessert here, which is delicious, the song of the day in Peaches by Presidents of the United States of America.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 16: Masking in masks

Today was a great MagAO-X day. We had great seeing and things worked well, we were able to get a lot done today and make some nice science-y images!

Engineering continued again tonight with a smattering of science. Tonight we worked on commissioning the non-redundant aperture mask (NRM), which is a technique for achieving high resolution images from the ground. Our collaborators Dr Josh Eisner and Dr Jordan Stone joined us via zoom to commission MagAO-X’s NRM observing mode on a bunch of their science targets.

Science camera 1 and 2 displaying NRM images.
Sebastiaan pilots the masking run sporting his KN95 mask.

The top image here shows science camera 1 (left) and 2 (right) during the NRM imaging run. The image on camsci1 is continuum (kinda like the baseline emission from the source) and on camsci2 is H-alpha, a hydrogen emission line that is very bright when the star is accreting (eating up gas and dust). It doesn’t really *look* like a star right now, and is all blurry-looking, because of how the masking works. Some fancy math is needed to reconstruct the images into more eye-pleasing and scientifically meaningful images.

A screen shot of MegaDesk NRM observations
Ooooh a nice pretty binary on the MegaDesk

We also got to look at one of my science targets. I am trying to detect some white dwarf stars. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star that remains after the star has evolved and shed all of its outer material (called the envelope). White dwarfs are interesting to me because they can serve as an important probe of planet systems at the end of a star’s life. The surface of a white dwarf is either pure hydrogen or helium, so if you see any other materials in the spectrum of a white dwarf (which astronomers call “metals”), it has been recently deposited there by planetary material or debris eaten by the star!

On the right-most monitor is my science target we hit tonight!

And we ended the night with some lovely images of Baade’s window, an area of dense stars towards the galactic center and with little dust that we use for measuring the astrometry, or the position of stars. One of the important things to determine about your instrument is how distances and angles in an image relate to distances and angles on the sky. To do that, we need to take images that contain multiple stars for which we already know their on-sky astrometry, and compare that to measurements in an image. So you want a crowded field with a lot of stars, so that you can have many stars fall within your image, and with existing well-documented measurements between the stars. Baade’s window is a good target for this, so getting many good images of it in all our filters is a top priority.

Our friend Carlos showed up for dinner again and struck a commanding pose in front of the sunset. Good boy.


The moon is waxing towards full and lighting up the mountains all night here. The song of the day is Who Built the Moon? by Shinyribs