XWCL among the aliens

MagAO-X and the eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab are affiliated with the Alien Earths project, an interdisciplinary collaboration led by Dániel Apai. I was going to list off the disciplines that they are inter-ing, but they said it best on their website:

Our Alien Earths team includes experts in planet formation, exoplanet detection and characterization, planet formation, planetary atmospheres, astro- and cosmochemistry, meteorite and asteroid sample analysis, planetary interiors and atmospheres, and mathematical biology and ecology.

This week, they are holding their all-hands meeting in Tucson.

We are contributing a whopping five talks to the program, giving us a chance to not only overwhelm them with our direct-imaging jargon, but also keep it up over multiple days.

As a prelude of the coming flood, Logan Pearce gave our science and instrument status update early in the Wednesday program.

“Après moi le déluge” — Logan, probably

She also took the opportunity to advertise the MagAO-X Sirius-Like Systems Search (final logo pending):

After lunch, Sebastiaan Haffert gave an update on direct imaging plans with the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope and the planned GMagAO-X instrument our group is developing.

Lest you think we gave every talk at this meeting, rest assured that there were other people on the schedule. (Organizer Dr. Kevin Wagner thankfully spaced us out so we wouldn’t overwhelm people.)

However, this is the Extreme Wavefront Control Lab blog, and we don’t claim to present the proceedings of the meeting here. On to the next! Avalon McLeod showed videos with enough of our instrument interfaces to terrify our theorist colleagues.

Black blazers are de rigueur.

Our last talk of today was Eden McEwen speaking about achieving mastery over the concept of TIME.


Dr. Sebastiaan Haffert closed out the session by giving us all permission to go, provided we return for free breakfast tomorrow.

Okay, Sebastiaan, if you really insist.

Song of the Day

“Diamonds on Neptune” by Old 97s

But who’s got time for heavenly things?

Merry MagAO-Xmas, and a happy 2023A/B!

This year has been a wild ride, which is to say, kind of on par with a normal pre-pandemic year. Conferences were held, telescopes were observed through, new people joined the program in real life (rather than Zoom™) and it wasn’t a big deal.

This post is not a retrospective, however. This post is to document the making of shortbread llamas, for anyone who fancies one. (Also, I owe Chef David Verdugo of Las Campanas Observatory a recipe in our exchange.)

Llamalmond Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 8-10 llamas
Time: 1 hour + time to decorate
Special equipment: llama cookie cutter

Received as a Christmas present

For the dough

  • 1 stick of butter (113 g)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (or almond meal)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the icing

  • Powdered sugar
  • Food coloring
  • Cocoa (for brown icing)

Make the llamas

  1. Set your oven to 350ºF / 325ºF convection and line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Beat together the butter and powdered sugar using a mixer on medium-high (scraping the bowl with a flexible spatula as needed) until completely combined, with a texture like creamy frosting.
  3. Switching to low speed, add the all-purpose flour, almond flour (or meal), and salt. Mix until just combined, adding water a teaspoon at a time if needed. The dough may be crumbly, but should hold together if you press it together by hand.
  4. Form the dough into a ball or log and wrap tightly, then pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  5. Unwrap the dough and place it on a floured work surface. Roll to 1/2″ thickness. (If it’s too hard to roll out, give it a few good whacks with your rolling pin.)
  6. Cut out your llamas. A floured bench scraper or thin metal spatula will help you lift them off, and transfer them to the parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  1. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pan around the halfway mark. The llamas are done when they show a slight hint of browning on their edges.
And this is what you get if you don’t rotate halfway through. Darned ovens.
  1. Let them cool for 10 minutes before removing from the sheet, or until they’re at room temperature before decorating.

Decorate the llamas

Powdered sugar, sometimes called icing sugar, turns into icing with only the slightest encouragement. Mix your food coloring (or 1-2 tsp of cocoa powder) with 1/4–1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and dribble in water a little bit at a time, stirring until you get a decently stiff paste of the desired color.

Put the icing in piping bags if you have them, or small zip-lock bags if you don’t. Cut off the tiniest bit of the corner, and pipe a bit onto a plate to test it out.

Decorate as you wish! (The icing will be dry within an hour or so, but maybe don’t throw the llamas into a cookie jar until it is.)

Song of the Day

I apologize in advance, but this has been stuck in my head for going on two weeks now and needs to get out.

“Llama Song (Llama, llama, duck)” by some internet wag idk

Bonus Andean ~vibes~

“Relato” by CERO39 feat. Buendia

MagAO-X 2022B Day 25: The Journey to Ruby Tuesdays

Today the rest of the MagAO-X crew left LCO to return to our respective destinations!

Slightly sleep deprived and ready for 30+ hours of travel

Eden, Jared, and I got to visit the La Recova Market down in La Serena on our way out, where we found lots of fun Chilean items.

Alpaca memorabilia galore

We are now waiting for our flights back to the states, enjoying some Ruby Tuesdays.

Lemonades all around

We are excited to get home, as it has been a long few weeks for all of us! Look forward to an upcoming blog regarding Las Campanas cuisine, and until then – I provide the song of the day.


MagAO-X 2022B Day 24: Transitive

I first came to LCO on April 18, 2012, for unpacking the one and only original MagAO. It sounds sappy to say, but life was never the same again. Tonight marked the 453rd sunset I’ve been on this mountain for (I can’t swear that I saw them all).

You’re never gonna believe this (because I lie about this all the time), but Eden and I saw a no kidding actual green flash tonight. It’s only the 2nd one I’ve seen. Believe me, if you aren’t sure, you haven’t seen it.

You can say this about being a long-run experimental astronomer: it’s never the same twice. As a team we’ve seen some stuff. The stuff this time was . . . unique. I did not see that strike coming. Even when it was announced, I assumed it would be like all the previous strikes of various flavors we’ve seen here and we would just more or less ignore it. And then when the strike was going and going, and going, we at least could be confident that we’d have all that best-in-the-world LCO seeing to make it worth it. For maybe the first time, Cerro Manqui didn’t come through — Laird and I agree that this was the worst continuous stretch of bad seeing we have seen in all that time.

Still though, without a doubt, this place is amazing. We owe a huge thank you to Associate Director Dave Osip who, as he always does, came through — this time with a short notice schedule shuffle and made sure we didn’t lose nights. And thanks to Povilas Palunas, Francesco Di Mille, and Konstantina Boutsia who dealt with the extra instrument changes and kept the observatory ready for us. Also, thanks to Emilio Cerda, Mauricio Cabrales and the crew for getting us on and off faster and smoother than I ever thought possible. You guys are awesome. And to our T.O.s, Carla, Jorge, Mauricio, and Alberto — thanks for putting up with all the trouble we can cause, and how boring we can make it.

The MagAO-X team itself is amazing. You came through, toughed it out (both when it was too long to wait, and then when it was too long to stay), and despite the rough air made this a successful run. You guys are what makes this fun, and why I’m already ready to come back and do it again. Thanks too to our observers for being patient and not blaming us for your full-widths. And it was really great to see Alycia in the control room again.

We’re almost gone. Laird and Logan jumped today.

See you when I see you.
Safe travels.

Eden and Avalon and I stayed one more day to organize, tidy, inventory, and (also) take a final or two.

So this is weird. We’re leaving MagAO-X down here. The boxes sit outside, empty.

Nothing to do but watch Vizcachas I guess.

When you spend 12% of your life somewhere, it sort of becomes part of you. With MagAO-X, the blending is a little more intense, since we normally bring it with us. (I’m not referring to the stuff in our carry-ons). For the brave members of the XWCL, we just move our whole lab with us and make ourselves at home wherever. If the switch recognizes your MAC and the WiFI is connected before your screen is on, then did you ever leave? When you’re home, you’re home.

MagAO-X gets an ~8 week rest.

But, in the end, there’s only one place to go when it’s really time to go home. One last selfie, and a wake-up, and we’re in the wind.

The last in line.

There has been a minor kerfluffle in the group over the song of the day rules. It turns out I didn’t say that the song had to be new, and so by construction posting the same song met the letter of the law. But I think it goes deeper: the song-of-the-day obeys the transitive property, just like the MagAO-X traveling ExAO circus.

See you in 2 months LCO.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 23: shhh… they’re sleeping

Our 24 hour MagAO-X clean up effort has just finished up around dinner time. MagAO-X is off of Clay. After sleeping various amounts of not-enough today, the whole team is more than ready for some sweet sweet shut eye. Hopefully now unbothered by nightmares of 2.0 arcsecond seeing or cart assembly.

End of run crew after take down!

The night crew finished up their white dwarf spotting at sunrise, just in time to get to de-cabling on the catwalk. Laird and I, having slept some of the night (as apposed to none), swapped with them to get MagAO-X carted off the platform and back into it’s clean room home. We’re pretty proud about how quickly we got out of their hair! Instrument: moved, cables: piled, and megadesk: disassembled. Don’t ask us about the clean room. Enjoy the photos of the process, knowing that the whole gang is now sleeping soundly as I post:

Night crew on cables
Day crew on cables
Lowering MagAO-X (I made a youtube channel for this I guess)
MagAO-X rolls onto the IZUZU.
Off we go to the clean room!
Road side supervision
Tucked away safe in the cean room.

Tomorrow Laird and Logan head off to La Serena for their USA flights. (They’re good and ready to head home.) Jared, Avalon and I will be hanging around an extra day to tidy up some. The run’s not over till the last of us leave, I guess.

As a bonus, I’ve added some of the 100″ videos I took on the tour with Alycia. (I love telescopes moving almost as much as I love louvers opening.)

The telescope operators moving the telescope.
Telescope operators moving us.

Song of the Day

“Don’t Stop Believin’ “- Covered by Vintage Postmodern Jukebox

Vintage Postmodern Jukebox actually has a bunch of even better covers you can check out, but I have a Song-of-the-day point to make.