MagAO-X 2022B Day 6: Gen Z takes Las Campanas

Eden here, representing the three exhausted first year grads that just landed in Chile. This second wave of helping hands will get to join the great thumb twiddling. (We have also beaten MagAO-X’s shipping crates to the mountain.) There’s no new news regarding the strike, but kindly telescope-time neighbors have agreed to swap nights: time after our run was supposed to end exchanged for our first observing nights. So now our first night of observing is December 2nd instead of tomorrow, a successful stall for more delivery and setup time.

Undaunted by the ever foreboding slack updates, I started my LCO journey at a crisp 7am at LAX. You wouldn’t believe it, but the traffic at 7am on a Saturday is still upsettingly bad.

My last sight of home for a while.
Dust motes and the majestic morning wakeup call on our SCL redeye.

In my ATL leg I met up with Avalon for our 8 hour red eye and in LSC customs we caught Jialin! Overall, no huge hiccups. It helps when you have nothing to declare, and no huge astronomy gadgets to explain in a language you can’t speak.

After a successful trip through customs.

From 7am to 1 we hang out in the domestic terminal, scavenging for vegetarian bites and unsuccessfully searching for dental floss.

We each deal with 5hr layovers in our own way.
So much hope for MagAO-X in these shining eyes.
Finding our telescope on a map of many observatories near La Serena.

After our plane hop north, we get a ride up the coast and into the mountain range to the telescope. Some quick COVID tests later, and we’re settled into our LCO homes for the next week or so!

The roomside views are stunning.
Small welcoming committee!
And, as is tradition, the crew watching the sunset, now with new members.

Song of the Day

“Pull It Together” by The Greeting Committee

Someone sleeping on blacktop really needs to pull it together.

out of context, Anonymous quotes of the day:

“I’m basically having one long meal from 1pm to 6pm”

“I was lost in the sauce there for a good two hours.”

“The moon is just made of fluff”

“Chilean olives are better than American.”

MagAO-X 2022B Day 5: ¡Ya basta!

The truckers are politely “only” causing traffic jams rather than a full blockade, but if you depend on freight vehicles for your business—or telescope operations—you’re still hamstrung by the fact that a ton of the trucks in Chile are busy blocking roadways and not shipping goods.

The government has read them the riot act and started detaining people. Negotiations continued today with some initial promising statements from the truckers. They continued until quite a late hour this Saturday only to remain stuck on the trucker union’s demand for government price controls on fuel. So it sounds like Sunday will remain truckless, and instrumentless.

On the plus side, we do not have thousands of tons of fruit in danger of rotting, or salmon that needs to be shipped immediately. We just sit in our rooms, screwing around doing important science stuff on laptops, and popping over to the lodge for our three square meals a day. It’d be quite relaxing, if it weren’t for the looming threat of losing telescope time worth roughly $50k a night—and the super intense compressed schedule to get on sky ASAP when the instrument gets here.

I don’t believe I used a blog post to announce our official patch design for 2022B, but now’s as good a time as any.

This is Gabriela the gata Andina (Andean mountain cat). The patch vendor did a great job simplifying my artwork, as always, but gave the cat a bit of a suspicious look.

In light of current events, I would like to present my online-exclusive patch design:

Gabriela dice: “¡Ya basta!”

The sunsets here on the mountain are incredible. Arizona can do some great stuff with monsoon clouds, but there’s this difficult-to-capture lilac band across the cloudless sky at sunset here that is beyond compare.

Some people only have eyes for one thing, though.

Also, I met a cool lizard but I didn’t catch their name. Anyone know them?

Aside from that, not much to report. Eden, Avalon, and Jialin arrive tomorrow, so we’ll have some more bloggers. (And, when the instrument shows up, hands. But who can say when that will be?)

Song of the Day

The connection to yesterday’s Delirium by The Dead South is… Saskatchewan!

Yep, more Canadians cosplaying my Southern roots. I like the song, though.

“Sleeping on the Blacktop” by Colter Wall

Now, if you want to hear some non-imaginary Appalachia, check out this short video Warren found explaining how to tell when you’ve got good alky-haul.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 4: Kilometric Tacos

We’ve recently had cause to learn a new Chilean Spanish idiom: kilometric tacos, which means (more or less) “kilometers of traffic jam”. The strike shows no sign of going away, and the rhetoric has gotten somewhat nasty.

So here are some scenic pictures to take your mind off things.

We had our first Guanaco sighting today:

It seems that the first thing you do after Thanksgiving is put up the tree, even if you didn’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving…

The song of the day is inspired by how we are currently killing time at our secluded mountain getaway.

MagAO-X 2022B Day 3: An astronomer’s guide to Valparaíso, Chile

Ninety minutes west of Santiago lies the fantastical, ebullient town on Valparaíso. Known as “Valpo” to the locals, it offers endless labyrinths of hidden staircases, harbor views and consistently interesting street art. Though well ensconced in long-haul South American itineraries, it is not well-known to most traveling astronomers despite its easy access from the Santiago Airport. Because of its smaller (~400,000) size, it is a more manageable and comprehensible city than the capital, and better suited for a short trip. While we wait at the mountain for our crates to arrive, may I offer some diversion in a guide to spending a few days on the coast.


Landing in Santiago, do your best to not notice the “2:15am” on your phone before it updates to the local time. Valparaíso is easily reached by transferring at the bus station “Pajaritos”, which is a hub on the western outskirts of Santiago. Buses run there from the airport every ten minutes, and from there towards Valpo every fifteen.

After passing through customs, the bus station is seen on the prominent map outside the terminal. What is less obvious is that you need to get there from the upper level, passing over the parking garage to a bridge connecting the station. The helpful “Turbus” company staff sell a ticket to Pajaritos for CLP1600 – about $1.75 cents. Many buses continue from Pajaritos towards Alameda – another hub station closer towards the city centro – but more than half the passengers leave at the first stop.

The greatest ambiguity comes from getting off the bus outside of the Pajaritos station. The local buses pull up to the curb outside the station, near a few booths hawking sodas and souvenirs. Walk inside the station and another Turbus booth on the immediate left sells a ticket to Valparaíso for CLP 5500 or six dollars. This is a good time to get a coffee and stop thinking about the last 18 hours of travelling.

The bus ride to Valparaíso is beautiful and passes through several Chilean wine valleys. It descends from these foothills into a coastal floodplain, where the first sight of the city comes from colorful houses dotting the hillside. The bus stops outside the National Congress building, where the bright sunshine and loud noises from produce and sweatshirt vendors can be disorienting. Depending on the distance to your hostel, there are choices to walk, take a bus or a taxi (or Uber). My plans to walk and get an initial impression of the city were quickly replaced by deeper needs for a nap and change of socks. A bit flustered about bus schedules, I recomposed with a much-needed beer which helped break a bill into coins to pay the local bus (CLP350, $0.38) with coins.


Valparaíso is fairly popular among the European backpacker crowd, and there are a good selection of cheap hotels and hostels accommodating budget travelers. Because of tourism mixed with a generally global perspective, a surprisingly large number of locals speak English. Accommodations are mainly centered around the hilly Concepcion neighborhood, which was the epicenter of planned street art in the 1990s. From this spot you can quickly head up any number of colorful staircases hiding interesting art and local boutiques.

I stayed at the “Hostal Po”, which was a conventional and clean hostel that featured a common space on the top floor for cooking and meeting other travelers. My private double room was CLP35000 ($38) a night; I was told that the CLP13000 ($14) dorm rooms were quite nice. The hostel was decorated by a large suite of local artists, and every room had some unique mural. At first glance, though, there was no sight more beautiful than the open window next to a made bed. Long summer hours meant that even after a luxurious nap, plenty of daylight remained for ample exploration.


Although there are several good sightseeing activities in Valparaíso, the main draw is the city itself. The best thing to do is to put away the map, step onto the street and walk down whichever street seems most interesting. Staircases are built into the hillsides where cars or horses could not travel. Originally a boomtown from shipping routes heading towards the new world, city planning was frenetic and energetic, and bright colonial houses are stacked on top of each other on the steep hills above the bay. After a lull of economic activity following the construction of the Panama Canal, the city has been largely revitalized through tourism and a vibrant art community.

An emblematic sight in the community is the “Ex Cárcel de Valparaíso” – an abandoned prison that has been transformed into a community park and arts space. Following the prison closure in the late 1990s, community activists began renovations and fought development by real estate developers. The concrete walls that used to echo with screams from torture during the Pinochet dictatorship now ring with children laughing under gardenias and bougainvillea; the cells transformed into ballet studios and hung with silks for aerial dancing.

One other classic sight is the “Casa Museo del Neruda”, where the poet lived from the 1950s-70s. Well maintained, the five-story tower is unique and tells eccentric stories amid beautiful views of the hills and harbor. Really, though, any places listed in the guidebook serve mainly as a motivation to see new hillsides, mosaiced staircases and idiosyncratic murals.

Carousel horse in Pablo Neruda’s house

Safety + nightlife

My short experiences in Chile have given the impression that the country is significantly safer than other places in South America. However, the gritty port characteristics of Valparaíso means that a decent amount of caution is warranted. The streets felt uniformly safe during the day, and were mainky filled with parents walking with their children to school, old couples stopping to chat with friends, friendly stray dogs, construction workers, etc. I was told that the area close to the port is sketchier, but safe if you don’t wave around cash or expensive cameras. The neighborhoods grew poorer as you continue climbing endless hills, with houses eventually melding into slums. These areas never felt dangerous, but did become much more abandoned and made me paranoid. A rule of thumb developed after a few U-turns is that if your street turns to dirt then you should consider turning around.

Several locals warned me about going out alone at night because of the risk of muggings and pickpockets. Although main streets are well-lit, they did seem quite risky at night. I walked back to the hostel one night in a group of three, without any troubles, but also with no motivations to linger.

Paradoxically, Valparaíso is known as a great nightlife city, especially on the weekends. Most people don’t go out until 1am. The scene on Tuesday night was quieter but still lively, and I went with a Chilean / Colombian / Belgian group from the hostel to a great live music show with two singers alternating between jazzy vocals and rap. The local hipster crowd formed groups outside on the street between sets, chatting while sipping pisco sours and making staggered visits to the corner store for cheap beers that could be smuggled back under jackets and purses.

I found the people in Valpo almost uniformly friendly, open and eager to help. The experience was a fantastic introduction to Chile and I highly recommend leaping on any possibility to visit. Total trip costs were approximately:
$16: transportation
$38/night: lodging
$2 for coffee
$8-10 for larger meals
$3-4 for museum tickets

The amount of nooks and colorful crannies was astounding, and with many more photos than could be squeezed into a blog post, I’ve made a Drive folder if anyone would care to see them.

The video for today’s post is by the two singers/rappers that I got to see on Tuesday night. The music is interesting, and they do a good job of capturing the scenes and vibes around the city.

Now, let’s get the truck up to LCO!

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: