MagAO-X Takes Montréal: Day 2

It’s only day 2 of the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes & Instrumentation Conference and already lots of interesting talks, lunch & learns, and posters are underway.

Dr. Richard Dekany gave an interesting talk on SIGHT, the Palomar 5m telescope LGS AO system, and highlighted the support of our very own Sebastiaan Haffert and Meghan O’Brien on the Optical Differentiation wavefront sensor.

The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Lunch & Learn brought up interesting points about international differences in approaches to EDI. There are more similar events and networking events throughout the week in room 514!

We supported fellow optical sciences grad student, Kevin Derby, from the UArizona Space Astrophysics Lab during his fantastic talk on pinwheel segmented primary apertures.

Kevin Derby presenting his talk

Since this lab just loves when things are “in-phase”, several of us attended a talk on the phasing of the James Webb Space Telescope by Scott Acton. He had some thoughtful words on his next steps as a scientist, “And that’s how you align the telescope. Now I need another job.”

Scott Acton presenting his talk

On theme with space telescopes, we are finishing the night with UASAL graduate student, Jaren Ashcraft, presenting his poster on the Space Coronagraph Optical Bench – SCoOB.

Jaren presenting his poster

Sorry, I’m not a connoisseur of French music.

“La vie en rose” – Louis Armstrong

Pyramid Schemes & Piston Dreams

For about a year, Laird, Alex H., and I have been putting together the protoype-High Contrast Adaptive Optics Testbed (P-HCAT). P-HCAT sent half of the simulated GMT pupil to the “Holey Mirror” which, as the name suggests, is a mirror with a hole in it.

Holey Mirror

The holey mirror is able to simulate a piston differential with a piezo-controlled mirror sticking through the hole. This light was sent into MagAO-X and the PyWFS was used to sense piston. The next phase of the project was adding post-doc Sebastiaan Haffert’s Holographic Dispersed Fringe Sensor into MagAO-X. This 1″ optic is able to interfere each segment of the GMT pupil with another then disperse them so we can back out the piston differentials. We got some very interesting results we plan on sharing in some upcoming papers!

P-HCAT aligned, not sending light into MagAO-X through the hole in the wall, but rather to a Basler science camera via a fold mirror

The next step is to convert P-HCAT into simply HCAT. This new and improved version will have a concept known as the “parallel DM.” This involves sending the entire GMT pupil onto a reflective 6-sided pyramid, a hexpyramid, which will send the light to 6 separate deformable mirrors. The central segment will pass through a hole in the center of the pyramid.


Manufacturing a hexpyramid with a central hole is no small feat. We are super excited to finally have our hexpyramid in the lab and ready to play with. This week we put it in front of an interferometer to check surface quality. To mount an optic this complex you need to be creative to say the least. See our makeshift mount below. We are happy to note the pyramid is very photogenic – it doesn’t have a bad side!

Hexpyramid mounted in front of interferometer

Piston Control is a fantastic mode of risk reduction for the Giant Magellan Telescope and we are so happy we get to be a part of this effort!

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 15: House of Heat

Hi everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post but it makes me happy that the team thought to include me in their blogger recruits. I am going to do a take on Dr. Kelsey Miller’s “Views from the Apocalypse” but rather than a cute Dutch city, I’ll be reporting from the city you all love to hate…..Phoenix, Arizona!

Fry’s has come in clutch for our social distancing needs with their curbside food pickup. 

Here is a “cute” photo of us wiping down our groceries so they are safe to consume

Unfortunately, curbside pickup only goes so far and many common household items such a toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a paper towels are not available. For these we must brave the dangers of the outside world.

Maggie and Miguel to the rescue!

Though these are difficult and uncertain times, they also offer a unique opportunity to catch up with your old friends on Zoom, finish up projects that have been laying around, and laugh at weird things on the internet like this:


I hope you all are able to get outside and enjoy some of the natural beauty around you…six feet away from all of your friends. 🙂

First Water Trail – Superstition Wilderness

I’m happy to be sharing a song that has been getting me through the day: “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits.

MagAO-X 2019B Day 6: Sleepless in La Serena

This title is somewhat misleading, after observing last night most of the team spent the whole day sleeping and stayed up working all of tonight. Olivier and I were the only ones to make it to lunch today and he put it best: “We value food more than the others, or perhaps we value sleep less.” For me, it’s definitely the food thing….

The grad students set up shop in the lounge

The Magellan astronomers were kind enough to let us utilize MagAO-X tonight while they took multi-object spectra with the LDSS3, so the team spent the night at the telescope taking response matrices, debugging code, and beginning some image processing.

The control room became a co-working space

I was finally able to get a nice consistent focus curve for camsci1 in the i-band!

We are finally recording focus positions
Alex and Maggie looking tired but spirited

I got frustrated with the focus code at one point and suggested that I may desire a career change to hedge fund manager, to which Joseph responded was a bad idea. So in honor of that exchange:

MagAO-X 2019B Day 2: Chillin’ in Chile

Hello XWCL! This is my inaugural blog post so buckle up because it is going to be a sleep-deprived ride. Laird and Alex spent the day prepping the instrument for transport to the telescopes while Jared, Joseph, Kyle, and I were putting the “finishing touches” on various pieces of code. Kyle, Joseph and I were able to get the auto_focus code running fairly smoothly. The question of the day seems to be on the focus curve plots, to show or not to show?

Joseph Daniel Long and Kyle, working hard or barely working?

Some burros decided to hold us up from going to lunch, but luckily they were very cute. There were a couple exciting animal sightings today!

Guanaco – a camelid native to South America, closely related to the llama (Wikipedia) (PC Laird)

Pre-installation Safety Meeting

Jared led the pre-install safety meeting to go over logistics of packing up the instrument, driving it up to the telescope, and installation.

Juan acted as our translator for the meeting

After dinner we began the decabling and packing up process. It was hard disconnecting such cooperative DMs but it had to be done.

Jared Males decabling the back of the instrument

And That’s a Wrap!

Once the cables and eyepiece were removed, and the instrument was closed up, we shrink wrapped the entire instrument.

Laird Close and Alex Hedglen protecting MagAO-X from dust particles
Two generations of PIs in front of their instrument two nights before first light!

MagAO-X is packed up and ready to go! Since MagAO-X is going to be installed on the telescope tomorrow I think it is safe to say that we will be running with the