MagAO-X 2023A Day 13: The night of exoplanet science.

Last night was an exciting night! MKIDS was working really well and we observed the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. This was one of the first directly imaged exoplanets and its quite well studied. The picture below shows an animation of the orbit of Beta Pictoris b during a 5 year period. Hopefully we can add some images from the MKIDS to this animation!

Look at all them orbital motion.

The New York Times also visited us to take some pictures of us in the control room. Luckily, we were not prepared at all and we will look like astronomers a week into their observing campaign. It did seem like Avalon was the main character of the photo shoot. The photographer left as quickly as he came, leaving us with some dread about what they are going to write about us.

While we are waiting for a new picture of Beta Pictoris b, MagAO-X was able to take an image of YSES-1 b. This planet is orbiting around its host star at a very large separation. YSES-1 is a star in the Musca constellation. Today I learned that that is the Fly constellation. I don’t know why anyone would ever make the Fly constellation but we have the people in the past to thank for that. Okay I looked it up: Apparently we have the Dutch to thank for the Fly constellation. I apologize for the crime on astronomy of my fellow country man.

YSES-1 is a solar mass star and has two know companions orbiting around it, YSES-1 b and c. We could not image c because it is outside our field of view, which already tell you that it has an enormous orbit. The inner companion orbits the star at 162 AU, this is 31 times the orbital radius of Jupiter in our solar system. At such radii an orbit will take 2051 years. That means it completed 1 YSES-1 b year since Julius Ceasar was killed!

The LOWFS loop closing to remove NCPA. The closing of the loop is announced by Maggieo-X our new AI assistant.

Song of the day

For the song of the day I chose Per Spoor from Guus Meeuwis, who is a Dutch pop/carneval singer. He became famous in the late 90’s and my mother was a big fan of his at the time. My mother took me to a concert of his in my hometown when I was 5 or 6 years old. This was my first concert ever! He mainly makes very festive music.

Per Spoor (Kedeng Kedeng) translation “By train track (Kedeng Kedeng)”. I can’t really translate the Kedeng’s because it’s a onomatopoeia for the sound a train makes in Dutch.

In the beginning, Guus is disappointed that the train was delayed by no less than 10 minutes, because he would prefer to spend this time with his girlfriend. Several things happen to him on the train. For example, he is addressed about the fact that his feet are placed on the couch, which, although Guus had the entire couch to himself, is not the intention. From the train he discovers the world and places that are new to him. Guus is impressed by the train’s discipline and hard work. He is also offered something to drink, which he did not expect at first. Although he is thirsty, he does not take anything to drink because the train arrives at its destination. From that moment on he already lurks outside, looking for his girlfriend. Once at his destination, he expects his sweetheart, his girlfriend, on the platform, but unfortunately she is not present, which leads to great sadness for Guus. At least, so it seems. Soon enough, however, it becomes clear that his love was playing a trick. She had hidden behind a pillar for comic effect, to the confusion of Guus Meeuwis. Once reunited on the platform, the train departs again.

MagAO-X 2023A Day 7: Back for more

Warren and I took different paths to Santiago but were able to meet up at the infamous Starbucks in the domestic terminal.

The tradition of name swapping continues. We lost Warren today, but we are quite happy with his replacement Juan.

We continued our journey onwards took the plane to La Serena and then the bus to the observatory. It took me only 78 days this time to come back to LCO and it feels like I never left. Like a certain PI said: “home is where the wifi connects”. This rings very true for LCO.

Our days immediately started with work due to tight schedule because of the many projects that we are doing at MagAO-X. Warren dived into the clean room to assemble his new monstrosity to mount the PIAA lenses. And, I started aligning a laser into a single-mode fiber. This was necessary to take some calibrations to improve the reduction of data from our last run. Its quite tricky to get enough light out of a single mode fiber when not all axis of your mount work. After spending about 2.5 hours I finally got enough light through and I was able to finish my calibrations. I finished at 2 AM! However, the night sky at that time is always amazing.

The milkyway at LCO.

During daytime we were able to make big strides on the integration of the camera software of VIS-X IFU and MagAO-X. This will hopefully mean I won’t have to leave my laptop beneath the instrument again during the observations.

I choose a song from Bon Jovi which is one of the few artists I have actually seen IRL. This was part of the Royal Dutch Beach concerts almost 10 year ago.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 18: Prepare for trouble and make it double

Tonight started of quite well. We finally had average conditions, which much better than the 2 arcseconds seeing from before! The first target of the night is one from Logan. She is searching for white dwarf companions around main sequence stars. Stellar evolution tells us that there should be more white dwarfs than we can see. These white dwarfs could be hidden as companions close by brighter stars, which make it difficult to see them. MagAO-X is an ideal instrument to search for faint things next to bright things. We use coronagraphs to block the starlight of the primary to search for faint companions. Below is a video showing MagAO-X running at full steam trying to get maximum performance.

Sadly, we had to stop again around midnight. The seeing went through the roof.

Proof that the seeing went through the roof!

The seeing became so bad that we just gave up trying to get science data and we switched to sparkle engineering. This also allowed us to explore the more important things in life. Such as tasting all the different types of milk that LCO has to offer. The reviews and commentary are outside the scope of this blog post and will be part of later work.

The MagAO-X PI enjoying some milk.

At the end of the night the seeing became a bit better and Logan could take over again to search for her white dwarf companions. Somehow it looked like all stars we looked at were binary stars. After seeing 5 binary systems we realized that it was the system itself that created the binary components!

And during the lows of the night we also lost our dear friend Vizzy. As if the night had not been bad enough.

After the night ended I continued to work on some daytime engineering to get the new integrated coronagraph/wavefront sensor to work. This has been manufactured by the local manufacturista Avalon McLeod. Yesterday night we commissioned the coronagraph part of this optic. And today we did the lab tests of the wavefront sensor side. Now we only need to get the wavefront sensor on sky!

Here it is ladies and gentleman, the amazing Zernike Wavefront Sensor!

The last week has been though weather wise. So here we are hoping for better skies in the next couple of nights.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 2: The strike continues

We were waiting eagerly on any news about the arrival of MagAO-X while the trucker strike continued. The first good news we got was that MagAO-X was cleared through customs and we got visuals.

MagAO-X somewhere around Santiago. People with keen eyes might see that certain Tip-N-Tell’s are not attached anymore. The Tip-N-Tell’s are used to see if the instrument has been tilted. Last semester we also noticed some of them disappearing. Who can tell what tipped it now?

We also got the message that we were waiting to hear. MagAO-X will arrive on the mountain on Friday morning! It will arrive before our observing runs start. But as happy as this makes us, we will only have 2 days to fully prepare the instrument for on-sky work. Meaning that we will have a couple of very busy days coming up.

Another exciting update is that the food menu has been diversified. The first new dish was also a mystery dish. It was some kind of mediterranean and chilean fusion cooking. They made shawarma and wrapped it in tortillas. I think it was a nice dish but the garlicy sauce that was added was a bit heavy. And another surprise came today, maybe because they know we have suffered enough due to the truck strike, we actually got some very nice French fries. So overall the first couple of days have been nice to acclimatize on the mountain and get us rested before we start the hard work.

And for the song of today we have Queen:

MagAO-X 2022A Day 25: The fake last night

We thought that we would go on-sky with MagAO-X for 14 nights when we left Tucson nearly 4 weeks ago. However, after some heated debate we realized that we never checked the official schedule of the telescope. Well, we got another night coming up. Luckily we build in a day of contingency and we can actually observe the real last night too.

This run was full of new problems and challenges as time went on. It has been over two years since MagAO-X was on the telescope, and we had forgotten many things that had to be fixed. Over the past four weeks we have fixed so many things to make a smooth runnig system. And, that is something we noticed last night. MagAO-X worked without any problems or hiccups. We had great performance and a very robust setup. And to quote some random person, “MagAO-X is working surprisingly well. I never expected this”.

An on-sky coronagraphic image of MagAO-X! So many things going on here. A dark circle in the middle that shows the blocking mask, the control radius. Calibration sparkles close in and DM speckles far out.

MagAO-X is now one of the first, if not the first, visible AO system with a coronagraph. An image behind a Lyot coronagraph is shown above. Coronagraphs are used to block star light while letting exoplanet light pass through. So its a way to ‘turn off’ the star. However, speckles often mess us up. According to wikipedia; a speckle is a granular interference that inherently exists in and degrades the quality of the images. We don’t like speckles, they add light in places we don’t want and they look like planets. So speckles have to go. Though, sometimes they can also be useful. The image above shows a set of speckles in a cross close to the center of the image. We use these to add artificial calibration stars because the real star is removed by the coronagraph. These are useful speckles! The term speckle is not correct for these set of calibration spots, because speckles degrade image quality and we use it to improve our image quality. Therefore, from now on we will call them sparkles. And we have been using our Calibration Sparkles quite a lot over the past two weeks.

Our fake last sunset before we start working.

Our bonus night will be coming up tomorrow, or today ? I don’t know anymore what to call everything. We have been here so long that we have survived several crew rotations, and at least we will be going up for our 4th and last Empanada Sunday.

The song of today is from one of the more famous Dutch rap formations called “De jeugd van tegenwoordig” (The youth of today), who sing about stardust.