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.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 24: Getting dispersed

Tonight was split 50/50 between Dr. Weinberger and Dr. Haffert. Once Alycia’s observations were done, Sebastiaan started commissioning his extreme, visible, high-resolution, MagAO-X-fed, integral field spectrograph VIS-X. There was a little bit of panic initially when the laptop pinch-hitting for “VIS-X instrument control computer” wouldn’t talk to the camera, but Sebastiaan shimmied up the ladder onto the instrument platform to debug.

It turns out that laptops are just like dogs. If you’re cold, they’re cold. Bring your laptops inside. (This also goes for post-docs.)

Once everything was working, he was rewarded with more mini-spectra than you can shake a stick at.

And, since the observatory advanced to “phase 3” of their COVID plan, we were able to have everyone in the control room for it!

Meanwhile, I was working on some astrometry with a field in Baade’s window that we imaged earlier in the run. (This very blog introduced it to the world as a calibration field for high contrast imaging, but for some reason the blog post doesn’t get the same number of citations as the paper by the GPI folks.)

MagAO-X imaging of HD165054 and its neighbors in z band, 30 second exposures, 10.5 min total. Left is scaled to show faint companions and the glare of the star, right is unsharp-masked to remove most of the glare.

We didn’t get a lot of field rotation to allow starlight subtraction this time, so the unsharp mask is the best way to see the stars hidden in the glare. We’ll be able to use them to calibrate the scale between angular coordinates on the sky and pixel coordinates in the instrument, using the measurements others (like our friends at GPI) have made of the field.

Song of the Day

The most famous spectrally dispersed album in music history is obviously Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. (Plus, it has a celestial body in the title.)

Money is the main thing Sebastiaan needs to make VIS-X even more extreme, so thank goodness he’s got some coming. Stay tuned for 2022B.

Quotes of the Moment

We have not been logging memorable quotes day-by-day because, frankly, we’re all extremely tired by the time it’s time to blog. But here are a few that have been queued up for publication over the last weeks.

“That god damn viscacha shows up in every picture no matter what we do.”

on the appreciation of viscacha visages

“This is so exciting for visitor 3. Visitor 3 gets to go down the road like the big cars!”

on the trip to GMT

“Oh gosh, we might as well be licking each other up here!”

on infection control measures

“At some point, some of us will actually die from lack of sleep.”

on sleep

“I want there to be a cat.”

on the Magellan tertiary mirror

“But seven… seven is a thing.

on mirrors

“He doesn’t know that if he jumps in my lap I’ll give him anything he wants.”

on foxes

“Stop calling it second light!”

on second light

“Oop, that was a shrimp-and-pickle burp.”

on local dietary habits

“Gender is such a complicated thing.”

on the subject of connector pass-throughs

“Justin, are you on your nuts? Everyone check your nuts. [giggling ensues] There’s nothing funny about that. This is a professional environment here.”

on nuts

MagAO-X 2022A Day 23: Feeling Remote

Late last year, we surveyed the Magellan community about what was lost and what was gained from remote observing. 10/28 people who had used a new instrument during remote observing cited a downside as the difficulty learning to use a new instrument. Obviously, MagAO-X wasn’t on during the 14 months of remote observing to that point. I have to wonder if the other 18 people all used a single-object-medium-resolution-visual spectrograph with few choices, … but I digress.

I assert that difficulty in learning to use MagAO-X is a major downside of remote observing. Now, MagAO-X is an experiment not a facility, so it’s not really fair to compare it to the facility instruments. But I’m used to at least having a goal of observational self-sufficiency. Alas, self-sufficiency is remote. So to speak.

I love observing. I love experiments. I am deeply grateful to the MagAO-X team who has been at LCO for the better part of a month and are still willing to collaborate to try some difficult observations with me. I hope I’ll be able to join them in person later this year (and not just because I’m jealous of their empanadas — surprisingly, in that observing survey, only 93/150 respondents chose “Delicious Empanadas” as a benefit to in-person observing. I can only assume that the other 57 are crazy ascetics who survive only on soylent).

My remote observing station in my home office. I notice that I am probably drinking too much coffee. The desktop, if visible, would show lovely images of LCO at night.

So for the song of the day, here are some appropriate lyrics from an appropriately  named song on an appropriately named album (Confusion on Electric Light Orchestra’s Discovery album).

Every night you’re out there, darlin’
You’re always out there runnin’
And I see that lost look in your eyes


don’t know what I should do
I leave it all up to you

Aside question to ponder: I bet everyone reading this can name more famous astronomers than ELO members. I have actually met one former guitarist/vocalist of ELO Part II whose daughter goes to school with my son, but I really only remember his name because he made it a famous building in Athens. Fame is in the eye of the beholder.

MagAO-X 2022A Day 22: A Hole Thing

Today we got up early (3:00 P.M.) for a tour of the Giant Magellan Telescope construction site, arranged by our fearless leader.

We met with architect Francisco Figueroa at the site, who was happy to show us around—as soon as we put on vests, hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, a high-visibility safety vest, and safety-toe boots. (We had foolishly left ours on the other mountaintop, but fortunately they had a whole closet full of brand-new safety-toe boots.)

Thanks to The Covid-19 Situation and These Unprecedented Times (and their friends Supply Chain Disruption and Financial Constraints), work has been stopped for a couple of years. This meant that the main thing to see was a hole, soon(ish) to be filled with a concrete giant telescope pier.

It was windy as heck up there.

After another delicious dinner, we went up to the Magellan Clay telescope to begin operations. It was still pretty windy… and seeing wasn’t great… so we listened to Magellan sing in the wind.

Listen closely for its song.

Our observer this evening, Dr. Alycia Weinberger, is a good sport, and was happy to hang out on Zoom with us even though we couldn’t get locked on to her target just yet.

After a while, we did get back on target, and Jared experimented with ways to push MagAO-X in poor seeing conditions. We can’t reach our most demanding performance targets, but we were pleasantly surprised by our performance in these challenging conditions (in these unprecedented times).

Even though we did not get our 0.4″ seeing (who do we talk to about a refund?), we were able to have some fun. For example, we were served butts for our night lunch sandwiches. (Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have grilled eggplants and peaches for dessert.)

Graduate Student Logan Pearce overcome by emotion at the sight of the sandwich.

As I write this Alberto, our telescope operator, has just asked us if pointing into 30 MPH winds is okay. Veterans of MagAO will recall that suspending a complex instrument over the primary led to some paranoia over wind speeds. Fortunately, MagAO-X is in no danger of being blown off the telescope.

Carlos Culpeo couldn’t make it but at least he’s zooming in.

The P.I. made a great discovery tonight! He just discovered that we have an extra night of telescope time (going by the official schedule), totally overturning the previous scientific consensus on which day we’re moving our instrument off the telescope. Stay tuned for the Nature paper.

Song of the Day

A recent Tucson Sentinel music column highlighted new music by a Tucson local band named Annie Jump Cannon, which I felt compelled to check out.

If you’re not familiar, their namesake was the first person to figure out a sensible classification scheme for stellar spectra, at a time when women were not offered the same opportunities in science as men. (We still use her classification scheme today.)

The band, as far as I can tell, has no professional astronomers in it. (Phew.) In possibly related news, the song’s pretty good too.

“Strawberry Fiona” by Annie Jump Cannon

MagAO-X 2022A Day 21: It was bound to happen eventually.

Whelp, here we are. After 20 days of the most excellent weather and 9 nights of impeccable seeing (last night was truly remarkable observing conditions!) we have finally hit a night with some clouds. We spent some time on a target for one of our collaborators and got her some good data, but as I write this (nearing midnight) the dome is closed and we are switching to the lab light source to do some engineering.

Here is a gif of the all-sky camera for about 10 mins, so you can see what we’re lookin’ at:

The LCO weather map showing clouds rolling in over our little red dot.

So MagAO-X got some engineering time and we took a sci-fi break thanks to Joseph’s projector he brought.

Featuring the incomparable Thomas Jane as Miller in S1 of the Expanse
Hernan the telescope operator joins us for some Expanse.
Jared says: “Photo capturing that the Grand-PI, PI, and Uncle Sagan Fellow are in the control room working while the grad students and T.O. watch a movie in the lounge.  #clouds #lifeatlco”
Jared gets a pic of the closed telescope with all the clouds.

So in lieu of data, I present to you, for no particular reason, viscachas as sad celebrities.

In honor of the peaches in syrup they like to serve for dessert here, which is delicious, the song of the day in Peaches by Presidents of the United States of America.