We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post…

Hey MagAO-X’ers we heard you all were at an observing run, and by coincidence the Space Forcers are too! We are at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma, Canary Islands for sodium laser beacon testing. (Initial results shown at the end if you want to skip to the good part!)

This observing run actually started at Teide observatory on Tenerife. Myself and a fellow Space Forcer Robert Johnson were doing some mission reconnaissance to check out an empty dome as a potential location for some future laser beacon experiments.

For more information on future Space Force Space Lasers see our SPIE talks 😉

Next we headed to La Palma and headed up to the observatory. The road is really curvy. Luckily the wildflowers are in bloom here so we stopped a lot to take breaks and take in the views.

Lots of flowers and lots of cool birds. Excellent time for an observing run.

And finally, after over a day straight of traveling, the Starfire team arrived at the observatory!

Starfire Optical Range Team! From left to right: Robert Johnson, Ian Kingsolver, Lauren Schatz, and Lee Kann.

The observatory itself is very dramatic. The telescopes are on one side of the mountain and right across the peak is a huge cliff into the very deep and eroded caldera.

Now onto the telescopes…. The Starfire team is working with a group of Italian and German researchers to test the new sodium laser. We are working in one of the open control rooms in the William Hershel Telescope pictured below. Our job is to perform analysis on the beacon to determine the magnitude brightness and the extent in arcseconds without turbulence. I was told last minute I had to learn astronomy and write a data reduction pipeline so thank you to Joseph and Logan for answering all my frantic questions!

We aren’t observing with the WHT. But they have a really cool new multi-object spectrograph instrument they are comissioning!
Obligatory sunset photo. Grand Canarias Telescope on the right (bigger than Keck if you really want to compare…)

Now onto the best part! The laser beacon! Tonight we are propagating at 45 Watts and hope to ramp up to 75 Watts. This is the brightest sodium laser in the world! It is really amazing to see with the naked eye.

It’s so beautiful :*)

Hope your observing run is going as well as ours!

Song of the Day:

In honor of Brian May who did his PhD observing at the Willian Hershel Telescope.

As seen in the control room kitchenette.