Bonjour! In the early hours of Saturday, I joined the team in Paris! Fun fact: if you land in Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2E and you want to be picked up by an Uber, do NOT go to the door labeled “Rideshare Pickup.” That would be far too easy. Uber is relegated to “Express Pickup Door 7A”.
Anyways, we shortly boarded our train to Avignon and got a lovely ride through the French countryside.
Apparently in the words of some Roman cardinals, Avignon is one of the most revolting and polluted cities ever seen. Except not really at all…it’s maybe the prettiest. A gorgeous walled-in city surrounding a castle, Avignon is lush and vibrant.
Thanks to the recommendation of Sebastiaan, the team took a fun tour of the Pont Saint-Bénézet, a medieval bridge across the Rhône. Okay it doesn’t exactly go across…it kind of stops in the middle…there was a lot of drama in the Middle Ages.
Sunday night was the conference registration and welcome reception where we finally joined Laird after his excursion through Portugal. Five is a party! A party with wine and cheese!
Day 1 of AO4ELT7
The conference hall is in the medieval conclave of the Palais des papes d’Avignon. It’s very unique, and we likely need to elect the next AO pope, but there is definitely not air conditioning.
The conference kicked off with interesting overview talks about the AO systems of each of the ELTs: GMT, TMT, and of course ELT itself. I presented my first conference talk of my grad school career on our up-and-coming extreme AO instrument, GMagAO-X. GMagAO-X is such an exciting project to be on, as a highly likely first light ELT ExAO instrument working in the VISIBLE.
And as you do at conferences, you network (with your roommates).
This is the prologue to the long sweaty conference the XWCL team will be spending in Avignon, in which some of us spend a shorter but just as sweaty time at a workshop in Paris. (There is a heatwave here, and it’s humid, and the desert kid in me is struggling to adapt.). Last year Sebastian, having good ideas as he does, collaborated with other high contrast imaging folks to think up a workshop on Coherence Differential Imaging, or CDI. As the whole point was to entice the next generation of instrumentalists with the siren song of coherent starlight subtraction in control and post processing, I was an easy target to convince to attend. Jared, having never been to Paris before, was also more than willing to spend a few days in the discussion. So here we are, tourists in a world-dominant optics hub.
Day -4: What is CDI again?
The first day of our CDI journey gave us a late start and a delightful Uber driver, who not only saved us from walking up a long hill to the conference location, but also regaled us with a deep dive into just how bad the drivers there really are.
The Observatory itself was nestled overlooking over the city from it’s Parisian suburb, magnificent among the larger park and woods that presumably came with the original estate.
We started the day with a series of very helpful overview talks, in which I rapidly went from not even really knowing what CDI stood for to appreciating cutting edge efforts to use the coherent properties of starlight with our high contrast systems. Barnaby Norris, Sarah Stieger, Axel Potier, and William Thompson should be commended on how much effort they put into the breadth and depths of their review talks. If you had listened closely, over the birds and the beatific breeze, you would have heard my brain expand three sizes in just an hour.
Almost as helpful as the actual programming were our extended coffee breaks, catching up and floating ideas with some of the leading experts in the field amid delicious pastries. It’s a good reminder that no matter how deep in the trenches I am with my little calibration codes, plenty of my colleagues in the field are right there beside me, banging their heads against similar walls.
At the end of the day we snuck in a little solar observing in an H-alpha filter. What a welcome sight to see the small saguaro on the solar telescope, designed and built by Lunt Solar Aystems in Tucson Arizona! With that petite piece of home, this place started to feel familiar.
Day -3: Discussions and downpour
Our second day was focused on hands-on teamwork exercises, which the MagAO-X team prepped for with the team exercise of figuring out how to get on the train, in the rain, from the wrong end of the station. It made us miss our chatty uber driver, especially with the quarter-mile hill treck from the train station to the workshop. Sweaty and drenched and a little dazed, we quickly got into our day of working through simulations and practical implementations of CDI algorithms and architectures.
One of our hands-on notebook experiences allowed us to play with the test bench right here in Paris. Their team has done great work to show a possible use case for AO telemetry, and in some of them we were even able to use their complex coronographic phase mask to pull out the planet!
After the day wrapped up, and to much nicer weather, Vincent Deo, a Paris local, walked us through the Meudon streets to a delightful sidewalk restaurant. There, discussions continued, though perhaps on much sillier topics, over wine and Belgian Beers and Charcuterie.
Meanwhile… word has reached us that the Space Force AO4ELT contingent has arrived on the other side of France …
Day -2: Reflect, Revise, Repeat (in 2-3 years?)
And before you know it its over. We wrapped up our discussions on the final day, summarizing our progress, thoughts, and future projects to the rest of the attendees. It was required that the students do the talking, and because of that the final presentations had much fresher face than the introductory ones. It did feel like
Of course, for all we’re learned, it was also a treat to be able to see another world center for astronomy, and another old telescope. Though this site is mostly for solar observing in the modern day, it has a history of observing that you can feel wandering the halls.
Finally, we finished this productive and educational tour de force with a very french dinner. More cheese, duck, and good friends from California and Australia.
See you all soon in Avignon!
Song of the Day(s):
Blog Rules for the french trip: Every post should use at least one french word, have a song of the day, and be tied to a memory of the trip.
The streets of Meudon were perfumed by the many jasmine bushes, wafting along a puff of breeze. I can understand why they’d want to host a workshop out there.
On Thursday last week, Warren Byrum Foster of house XWCL, first of his name, Tzar of tubeless designs and the first picomotors, protector of PIAA lenses, cultivar of pineapple, breaker of linear shift-invariance, the unphased, and (most recently) Master of Science defended his thesis and restored peace and order to the 8th floor of the Optical Sciences building.
The public portion of the presentation detailed the many intricacies of the Phase-Induced Amplitude Apodization (PIAA) component of MagAO-X and I’m pretty sure I speak for more than just myself when I say that I learned a lot about the importance of this project for pushing the limits of the Magellan Clay telescope. Warren also had the foresight and kindness to distract us with tasty Mexican pastries and fizzy drinks while we awaited the good news during the “grilling” portion of the defense. We would all like to thank him for his work towards shrinking our inner working angle and furthering our long term science goals of becoming the best AO system in the world!
No windows were left with a cork-shaped hole, this clearly isn’t his first time…
Congratulations to Warren! Starting your grad school journey at the apex of the pandemic (Aug. 2020) and completing many of your core classes remotely and mostly solo was no easy feat (source: same cohort as me!) so extra kudos to you for sticking it out and finishing with a bang. We’ll definitely miss you and the positive vibes you bring; whether we’re on observing runs or just experiencing daily life on the UArizona campus. Here’s to the road ahead; may your hunts be fruitful and your arrows fly swift.
For now, Warren is continuing with the refinement of the PIAA setup with some fancy picomotors for finer control during operation. Further into summer, he is pursuing collaboration with the Roger Angel group to demonstrate his talents on the LFAST project.
A nice sunny day in the Summer of 1998 2023 provides the perfect backdrop for celebrating a successful Master’s defense on the 8th floor in Meinel.
For proper celebration shenanigans we found ourselves at 1912 Brewing Co. where we presented Warren with a super cool tee which he promptly and eagerly put on. (Thanks to Joseph for facilitating this!)
Song of the Day
The song of the day is an absolute classic and a known favorite of Warren. I chose this rendition because Ray Chen’s facial expressions while playing the violin more than make up for the lack of vocals here…!
It’s been a busy month in the eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab. The main event was the return of MagAO-X after a long wait for a ride on the mountain without us. Everyone’s favorite ExAO instrument finally showed up right at the beginning of May, which of course meant that we broke out the hard hats and steel toes.
The day of the main event started at 0600 when we started working with the mirror lab crew to crane our shipping boxes open. But first we needed the stuff that makes astronomy go:
MagAO-X has been down below since October, so of course the lab had to be reorganized. You could barely tell that MagAO-X used to live there full time!
Maybe the biggest excitement of the whole thing was evidence that we had water leak in to the box. It must have been rained on (we always blame Miami), and we saw water spots on the mylar blanket and some rust on the shipping frame. So we were super anxious until we finally got to unwrap the instrument in the clean clean room:
Once back in the lab, safe and sound, we began the long process of unpacking.
For me, the shipment isn’t over until we actually cable the 2040 actuator deformable mirror (I’ll let you work out how many wires it takes to move 2040 actuators . . .) and show that it has survived the trip.
Thanks to the excellent touch of Eden and Sebastiaan we got all the connections made on the first try and sat down and closed the loop.
We were gone long enough that the university’s IT department didn’t recognize us:
Here is MagAO-X, Phase I, all set up and cabled back in its Tucson home.
But now the fun begins! We’re taking the next year off from the telescope to do some major upgrades, and long overdue repairs. Today we started tearing our MagAO-X apart. The first thing to go is the Pyramid Wavefront Sensor detector, which is on its way back to France for a timing board replacement and to get some (possibly) more sensitive operating modes installed.
When we head back to LCO for April (or so) 2024 we’ll have 1000 more actuators, new coronagraphs, new LOWFSs, and waaaaaay more software. Maybe fewer github issues too.
Going back into hardware mode is both exciting and a little terrifying. The XWCL will have to stay focused on the tasks at hand and be ready to deal with all the sh$t that won’t work the first time and go about figuring it out. But remember: “having more things just means more things can go right”.
It’s also a time of change in our group. Alex (v2), Joseph, and Avalon have all defended; and Warren is gearing up for his defense in a few weeks. If you’ve been following this blog you know they have all been crucial to the success of MagAO-x and been on many an adventure. The rest of us are now scrambling to scoop up all of their knowledge and make sure we can keep it going without them. We’re also going to miss them!
The song of the day is “Guess Who’s Back” by BEGINNERS & Night Panda. It is, as the kids say, a banger.
Stay tuned for an action packed summer full of travel and conferences, new hardware, probably some more glycol spills, and all of our usual shenanigans.
Today another shining star of the MagAO-X team has defended! We all are so happy to announce that Avalon McLeod, after powering through a triumph of a thesis and defense, now has her Masters degree in Optical science!
The story of Low Order Wavefront Sensing (LOWFS) was everything a AO control theorist could ask for. We got motivation from the 2020 Decadal Survey, multiple novel acronyms, AO diagrams old and new, PSF cleanup simulations, and stunning comparisons between lab and on sky results. Even those of us who saw the on-sky prowess of the LOWFS loop our own eyes were on the edge of our seats as she revealed how quantitatively well it performed our last run.
After the public portion of the talk, everyone but the defendee and the committee were asked politely to “Get out!” We all waited patiently for the committee to decide what we’ve felt for a while, that Avalon has earned the title of a Masters Degree.
(Well, we actually didn’t wait so patiently that we could help ourselves from sneaking a peak to see if they were done yet…)
Among Avalon’s many skills is ceremonial un-corking (along with LOWFS-ing, nano-fabrication, hoodie fabrication, cameo printing, and a ccapella do-whops) and we celebrated!
Congratulations Avalon from your MagAO-X family, observing runs and lab time won’t be the same without you. We wish you the best of luck as you go on to be an Astronomer for Draper in Boston! They’re lucky to have you.