2017A Day 18: Scary Spider

When you’re on an observing run, the word “spider” comes up fairly often–usually people are talking about the support structures of the secondary mirror. Tonight, “spider” had a different meaning because THERE WAS A HUGE FREAKING SPIDER IN THE BUILDING. Here is a picture showing just how big this thing was:

Version 2

By the way, can you guess which of the three walls is the floor or ceiling? You get bonus points if you said the top part with all the holes in it is the ceiling. So this thing was hanging out near the ceiling right outside the bathroom. I went downstairs around midnight, saw the spider, and immediately turned around. Everyone is afraid to use the lone bathroom in the building now. People are scared. There’s talk of rationing our food because we may not be able to leave.

Why not get rid of the spider, you ask? Gently nudge it away and outside? No, it’s big and scary, and hairy. Also, have you seen the movie Arachnophobia? You don’t mess with spiders this big. Oh, and as I write this, about 4 hours after we discovered the spider, it is still sitting there. Brooding. Plotting. Biding its time.

Up in the safety of the control room, I continued to make observations for my programs. Laird has been my AO operator, and this means we often get into ridiculous conversations. For example, yesterday we calculated how fast Santa Claus would have to travel to visit every household in the USA in one night (about the speed of an asteroid, apparently). I have also been berated with Laird’s usual statements like “I’ve never had a grad student/postdoc who thought you could just clean a refractive lens to get rid of ghosts.” I was also reminded what a “hi-archial” system is.

Despite the high humidity, observations are happening and good data are being taken (except when you accidentally set up VisAO to take 6000 darks during an exposure, and by you, I mean me).

I am going to once again bend the youtube song rules by linking to the trailer for “Arachnophobia.” A terrific movie that will make you afraid of spiders if you weren’t before, and if you were already, you’ll be even more terrified and fear even the tiniest ones for life. So yea, definitely see this if you haven’t.



2015B Day 15: Back to clouds

We had a solid run of 2 nights with good weather and incredible seeing. Sadly, that run is over. Tonight the clouds came rolling in around midnight and didn’t let up. Before they came in, the wind picked up and forced us to point at a very southern star.

While we were taking data, we noticed that the Clio PSF was elongated on one side of the chip but perfectly round on the other. To troubleshoot this issue, Katie and I decided to mess with Clio’s knobs (for instrument folks: move the camera lens around). We were trying to see if changing some alignment might fix the elongation. Here’s what we found:


These images were taken with the star at different positions on the detector and the camera lens adjusted to a new value. When we put the camera lens back to its nominal value, here’s what we found:


On the whole, the images are pretty similar. And more troubling, the overall PSF shape didn’t really change, which means the camera lens wasn’t responsible for the weird elongation. More problem solving to do later!

Since I am a LEGEND (A. Vaz, Nov. 29, 2015), I am going to forego the song requirement and bring back quotes. Here’s a little convo we had when the wind started to pick up:

“T.J. will point the telescope straight into the wind if you don’t watch him.” –Jared

“It’s true, I will.”–me

Goodnight/morning everyone.

Edit by the blog administrators:
TJ doesn’t want to play our game, so here is a video of him — the game will resume tomorrow:

2015A Day 31: All by myself no more

Hello everyone, this is the last night of my run, so it seemed appropriate to do the blog tonight.

I’ve been here for the past 6 nights. As you might have noticed, the weather (clouds, wind) has not been favorable during this time. Nonetheless, we managed to get about 2+ nights of good data. I can’t really complain anyway, having spent a lot of time at the LBT and MMT *not* observing due to weather.

During the past week, we made some cool new discoveries, imaged some interesting targets, and stared at the wind monitor. The highlight for me was actually last night. Sure, it was good to get data for most of the night, but I managed to fulfill my promise to Jared and KT by operating all three instruments by myself simultaneously. There’s no photo of this, because people would get mad if they knew I was operating Clio with my right hand, VisAO with my left, and the AO with my feet. Just kidding, Laird. Also, it would have been really hard to take a selfie, so you’ll just have to believe me.

Here is a photo from tonight, showing an actually pretty full control room. We have new arrivals Alycia and Amanda, who will be sharing the next 6 nights. Hopefully the weather cooperates for them.



“She’ll probably be like ‘You’re stuck? Fine with me!”–Alberto, guessing how my wife would react if I ended up getting stuck on the mountain (this all stems from the internet being down for a few hours earlier tonight).

I’m new to this song-posting thing. But the theme from the past few nights has been me pretty much by myself (not quite, because Jared and/or KT were usually also with me. But still).

Edit by the Blog Administrators to comply with The 2015A Blog Rules:

2014A Day 15: Everything is not really awesome

Tonight was an interesting night. We got on sky pretty quickly and proceeded to taking science images with ~1″ seeing. Everything was working well until the seeing blew up to >3″ for about an hour, essentially killing our first target.

The AO fought admirably throughout the horrible seeing bursts but eventually we just had to wait it out. The seeing eventually died down to a steady 1-1.5,” allowing us to make some great science observations for a few hours.

But the night wasn’t done messing with us. Our next obstacle: clouds. They came in and pretty much obliterated all flux hitting the wavefront sensor for about about 2 hours in the second half of the night. After some good old-fashioned waiting and looking outside with our own eyes to inspect the clouds, we were convinced there were enough non-cloudy holes to move to the next science target.

But then we encountered our third obstacle: a telescope malfunction. This effectively killed the rest of the night for us.

However–while we were on sky we did make some great observations of some very interesting targets. All in all, despite the various problems, I would call tonight a successful night. Everything is semi-awesome.


Where we've been practically living for the past 2 weeks or so.
Where we’ve been practically living for the past 2 weeks or so.
The horse once again hanging out tantalizingly close to us.
The horse once again hanging out tantalizingly close to us.
The moon and the mountains captured from a very small telescope (an iPhone)
The moon and the mountains captured from a very small telescope (an iPhone)
We've spent a lot of time looking at lots of other stars. Time to give our own star a little love.
We’ve spent a lot of time looking at lots of other stars. Time to give our own star a little love.


Various people at various times: “Everything is not awesome when the seeing is bad”; “Everything is awesome when the clouds disappear!”

Laird: “I can’t work in these conditions. I can’t do this.” (referring to operating the AO in the horrible seeing)

Laird: “It’s not me, it’s you” (claiming it’s not the AO’s fault)

Laird (redacted)

Jared (in response to redaction): “You know, you can just make up quotes for the blog.”

Goodnight/morning everyone.

Comm2 Day 11: Rookie Post #2

This is my second post ever. I guess that makes me no longer a rookie…

Tonight went pretty smoothly. Most of the night was spent doing science observations of faint companions. Because we have two science cameras, we were able to obtain some pretty cool images on both cameras–simultaneously!

The AO continued to perform very well, aside from a few hiccups, some of which may be Clio’s fault. (But since Laird/VisAO are always blaming Clio, I’m gonna blame VisAO this time.)

Speaking of Clio, Vanessa and I have continued to make progress in automating the control software so that *YOU* can one day operate Clio by yourself. This is a long and slow process, but things are improving.

Here are some action shots from the night:

The crew hard at work
The crew hard at work

I spent most of the night here:

my work station for the night
my work station for the night

What was I doing? Reading about TCL (pronounced “tickle”). This is because Clio’s software is written in this bizarre-but-very-popular-in-the-90s language. This is not fun reading, although Alfio, curious mad scientist that he is, has already started to read the textbook *for fun*.

A few quotes from the night:

“Why is there no light?? Ah! Because we are in the dark!” – Alfio

“Stop playing” – Alfio (sinisterly)

“My God, it’s full of stars!” – Me (mandatory sci-fi reference when doing Astronomy)

Laird: “Hey Clio”….Vanessa: “Yes?” (first time PI has addressed another human being by the name of instrument they work on…and the person has responded)

Goodnight/morning everyone.