2014A Day 25: A Photogenic Day

After another busy night, I didn’t put together a substantive post. Thankfully, today was a beautiful day, with plenty of both literal and eye candy for the blog.

Francois played Easter bunny and hid chocolate eggs around the control room for all to enjoy.

Thanks, Francois!


Jared spotted our friendly local Easter “bunny”

Jared spotted Vizz chillin’ in the rafters


And Jen had a new roommate when she woke up this morning

Much less intimidating than a mouse.
Jen’s pint-sized lizard friend


I took a few last photos of the local flora at sunset

Clay’s twin Baade is visible in the background
The sunset was fiery red
I finally reached the top after a long mozy up


Here are a couple more  stunning photos Jan Skowran and Yuri Beletsky took over the last few nights:

The twin telescopes: Clay and Baade by moonlight
Jan caught another sweet shot just as we were switching targets.
Before the moon rose, Yuri captured this beautiful deep exposure, with the Milky Way and airglow.

I feel like I’ve just arrived, and it’s already time to head home. It’s been a blast working with a great group of team members, telescope crew, and observers.

Until next time, MagAO!

My last chance to see a green flash

Though it’s about 24hr door to door, I remind myself that it’s not so far in the grand scheme of things:

2014A Day 23: It’s good to be back

Hi everyone!  With the beautiful weather and amazing avocados for every meal, it’s good to be back on the mountain again!

The obligatory selfie in the funhouse mirror.


Because MagAO is now open to the public (so to speak) and we’re executing a variety of programs, I’m learning about a wide range of science projects.

Of course, there’s the “run of the mill” high-contrast imaging with VisAO. See the ring around the star in the image? That’s not a disk of material around the star; it’s a sign of a beautiful AO image. With very high-quality correction, the star’s light in concentrated into the core of the star image, leaving a “dark hole” around the star. The better the correction, the deeper the hole. Outside the hole, at the “control radius,” is a ring of small uncorrectable residuals. They look really prominent here because of the stretch, but they’re actually incredibly faint. At the right edge of the picture is a faint reflection, or ghost, of the star; you can see how tight the core of the star image is and how very faint the ring is by comparison. As Laird put it, “We get better quality on our ghost than most people do on their images!”

Beautiful H-alpha image from VisAO. The wavelength of this light detected here is ~650nm, which your eye would see as red.

Switching gears, we also took wide-field images taken of stars toward the “bulge” in the central regions of the Milky Way. After spending so much time taking really sensitive images of single star systems, I’d forgotten Clio could take images like the one below! Subo, Ping, and Jen are following up “microlensing” target hosts with these data. Microlensing is a sweet technique for indirectly detecting planets around other stars. The gravitational pull of a massive object like a star or planet can actually bend light passing by it, creating an effect similar to how a glass lens bends light that passes through it. An everyday magnifying glass uses this bending of light to magnify objects. In the same way, a “gravitational lens” can magnify objects behind it via the gravitational bending of  light. So if a planet and star just happen to pass in front of a more distant star, they will briefly magnify the light of the distant star in a particular way that astronomers can use to measure the mass of the planet – pretty wild! High-resultion imaging helps to constrain the planet models, so we followed up several different planet candidates as part of this program.

I’ve never seen so many stars on Clio before!


AO was running very smoothly for most of the night tonight under Katie’s watchful eye (the screen saver went on several times because nothing needed adjusting for so long!). We also had our first guest AO operator tonight. Dave Osip stopped by for a while to check in, and we roped him into operating for a while. It’s a good sign for the usability of the system if we can start having guest operators – thanks to the AO team for all the user interface and hardware reliability improvements!

Dave takes a turn at operating AO.

And, of course, I went wildlife watching.  From the control room window at dawn I saw a couple vizzies hopping on the rocks below.

Good morning, vizzies!

And I’ll leave you with a very serious analysis of the vastness of the universe in song form. Including, perhaps, a postulate on multiverse theory:

Comm2 Day 12: Snowflakes

Today we saw snowflakes here at Magellan! Thankfully, the weather was beautiful without a cloud in the sky; the snowflakes were on Clio.

Snowflake-shaped image on Clio.

This is an image of a star. Although it looks distorted, this image is actually great. If our AO system is performing well, the image shape (the technical term is “point spread function”) will be very stable. Who says no two snowflakes are alike?

This image is using a technique called “non-redundant masking,” or NRM, to further improve the resolution of our telescope. With NRM, it’s possible to increase our already AO-enhanced resolution by another factor of ~2. This lets us see companion objects extremely close to their host stars, for example. However, nothing good comes for free; in order to achieve super-resolution, we have to throw away most of the light reaching our telescope (see image below). So this technique is only useful for very bright targets.

For a detailed explanation of the images below are showing, and of how to go from telescope pupils to images, see Katie’s previous post.

Bottom: Full telescope pupil and its corresponding image (PSF). This is “normal imaging” mode. Top: The non-redundant mask blocks most of the telescope aperture (the normal pupil would fill the circle), trading sensitivity for improved resolution. The NRM pupils’ corresponding PSF is in the upper right.

The beauty of the MagAO system is its simultaneous visible/infrared imaging. So while we were imaging with Clio, Kate was taking visible-light data of the same objects to study the properties of their circumstellar disks.

In other news, Laird, Jared, Kate, TJ, and I gave a Magellan virtual tour to a group of prospective U of A grad students over Skype. The intertubes were a bit clogged, so I’m not sure how well they could see us, but hopefully our enthusiasm for the project came through anyway!

Laird wows the prospectives with tales of MagAO.

Runa also gave a virtual tour, though perhaps a lower-stakes one…

Runa gives a tour, too.

Former Steward grad Derek Kopon sent us this neat pic today from Amsterdam:

Even the Dutch are fans of Clio.

And of course, I can’t forget Miss Viz…

Miss Viz was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

And finally, I gave a shout out…

Happy birthday, Dad! (Click to embiggen.)

“I don’t ever remember focusing at MMT. Not even once.” –TJ,   “I’ve never had a grad student who said that.” –Laird

“Geeze, when are you going to stop nodding??” –Kate

“I’m behind TCL, but Alfio’s behind me.” –TJ

“Don’t worry. Just a Laird check.” –Jared

Comm2 Day 6: Nighttime Edition

You might have noticed that our server redirected you to https. This will help ensure that MagAO continues to be a source of good, clean, family-friendly fun. Thanks to Paul Hart for helping Jared get a certificate set up.

KT saw the Zorro by the dining hall mid-morning. He was not shy at all, and let her get pretty close to get a good picture. Our telescope, the Clay, is in the upper right of the photo, it’s the left-most telescope of the big pair.
If you are worried about Vizzy when a fox is out and about, note the size of Zorrito as compared to the cars here — he’s very very small.

Thanks to our loyal readers, Jared has found a new source of funding for Arizona’s various AO endeavors:

A comparison of MagAO and Zero (Clio/LBTI/CAAO) domain names. Curiously, though MagAO is ranked lower than Zero, it’s worth more.

Alfio and Marco have been hard at work building bigger and better interaction matricies. By enabling or disabling rings of ASM actuators around the central obscuration, they are able to create more robust, higher quality calibrations. They create different sets of shapes (different “modal bases”) to apply to the mirror, based on which actuators are enabled. The new interaction matricies they’ve taken today have improved the VisAO image quality by ~20%! They also took a full suite of calibrations which will allow us to observe very faint targets.

Alfio and Marco building away. Laird and Jared weigh in.

Today we also moved the Clio solid nitrogen pump down to the basement, to reduce telescope vibrations. The optical alignment of the CRO is so sensitive that we can easily see a 1 micrometer (10^-6 meter) displacement. So we need to take as many sources of vibration off the telescope as we can; pumps are especially bad. The telescope staff routed a ~150ft hose from Clio to the pump’s new home in the basement.

Vanessa and Laird work on removing the Clio pump from the rack. Katie and Victor attach the new vacuum hose.
We explored the basement after installing the Clio pump in its new home. Upper left: Various cables have to be routed up to the telescope chamber. Lower left: Pato shows off the telescope bearings. The whole telescope floats on a cushion of oil (the blue ring behind Pato). He’s pointing out the bearings and encoders that control the telescope’s motion. Right: To keep the telescope temperature equilibrated, huge fans circulate the air.

We’re T -1 day from going on sky. The whole gang is hard at work finishing preparations to the AO system, VisAO, and Clio.

The Clio gang. Katie writes pipelines for Clio calibration and data reduction. Jared works on VisAO performance analysis tools. Alfio and Marco build a library of AO calibrations. Laird oversees it all.

Tomorrow, two more team members will be arriving: TJ Rodigas and Kate Follette. Just in time for the big debut!

Now it’s time for me to follow Povilas’ lead…

Povilas lazes around.

“You drive me to caveats” — Povilas
“Now the entire blog is staged” — Katie (after Povilas admitted that he said that just to get on the blog. He loves us.)
“Nature throws thing at you that are not Kolmogorov. That’s a major caveat.” — Laird
“Maybe we should go back to the old interaction matrices. If the Strehl is too high, it might melt VisAO’s CCD” — Jared
“Cheese helps me to concentrate” — Marco
“Well… is the Clio pump on?” — Laird (asking completely sincerely!), blaming Clio for vibrations even after we stuck its pump down in the bowels of the telescope
“I have control over everything” — Alfio
“If you can’t focus a camera then you shouldn’t really be going on-sky with it” — Laird