2015B Day 32 Part 2: Hi, I’m New Here


It is a thrill to be here at LCO and in particular at the Magellan Clay. Being that it is my first time visiting a major ground based telescope facility nearly every experience is a new one for me, from the endless mountain vistas, to the occasionally spotted wildlife, to the sheer size and complexity of the instrumentation. I have spent my career thus far producing space based optical telescopes, and since I recently had the privilege of joining SAO to work on GMT programs I am now transitioning my mindset to the challenges of looking out into space from earth, rather than the other way around.

My name is Dan Catropa and I am the new guy; I have only been at SAO for two months so having the pleasure of making this trip is truly an unexpected and wonderful experience. It has been educational observing the observers observe, despite the hours that astronomers keep. The talent required to not only understand the astronomy and physics of our universe, but also conceptualize, design, build, test, operate, and maintain the critically important hardware systems that enable the pursuit of science and discovery, is impressive and inspiring.

Ok, enough kissing up to my new colleagues.

Part of why we are here is to prove out a novel method which will ultimately be used to measure segment piston between adjacent primary mirror segments for the GMT. Without going into too much detail which is better left to the technical papers written by the folks responsible for conceptualizing the technology, I will simply show you this picture of the prototype instrument on the NASE and the crisp fringes it acquired, made possible by the prolific resident MagAO system. (Quiz: What Star Wars spacecraft does the AGWS Phasing prototype resemble in this picture?)

AGWS Phasing PT on the NASE
I Band Fringes!

A highlight of my visit was seeing the Magellan primary from a unique perspective as we were setting up on the telescope. I am up on the lift. Brian McLeod is on the platform probably wondering when I was planning on coming down. Newby.

Checking out the M1 (and doing some useful measurements too)

On the lighter side of things, today’s sunset was spectacular. The fabled green flash appeared as the sun fully disappeared over the mountain horizon. There were several witnesses in case this tale needs corroboration, however nobody was able to take a picture since it happened so fast. So that means two things – 1) those who didn’t see it may still not believe it happened, and 2) you will have to be patient and see it for yourself someday. The twilight sky that succeeded the epic sunset was not disappointing either, so at least I can show you that, as if you haven’t seen it before (again…I am new around these parts…although I hope those much more experienced are still in awe of this remarkable daily phenomena). (Note: this is an iPhone picture of the display on my camera since I don’t have my cable to transfer the pics…hence the not so great image. Use your imagination to further resolve the detail).

Sunset Post Green Flash (low res)

Something else that probably gets old for locals but still must be somewhat attention-grabbing is the wildlife. On my short trip I have seen viscachas, wanacos, donkeys, and turkey vultures, all of which are shown below with the exception of the viscachas who evaded my camera lens (or maybe it was just my sleep deprived sluggish reflexes).

Locals enjoying an afternoon flight
Wanaco patiently posing
Donkey visit

So after beginning my day with a mutant banana (two bananas nestled inside a single peel – seriously, Brian is my witness) I will leave the observatory in a matter of hours, taking with me new knowledge of the meticulous work required to do astronomy, burned-in images of sunsets and starlight, and a bus ticket from La Serena to Santiago. Referencing Alycia’s post from December 17, I too will have to make my way back by bus due to the airport worker’s strike. I give my thanks to Alycia and Katie for the suggestion to get a Salon Cama ticket; this should make the trip a bit easier. Muchos Gracias to Nelda and Jorge for hooking me up with the last minute travel logistics in the wee hours of the morning.

Speaking of the wee hours of the morning…just like astronomers, the concert goers at Woodstock were up all night too, and they were definitely seeing stars of all sizes and colors.  Ken posted Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and so I will leave you with a selection from one of my favorite bands of all time, Creedance Clearwater Revival. CCR started their set at Woodstock in the wee hours of the night. They played amongst other great tunes, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” which both must resonate with astronomers for obvious reasons. CCR is also one of the most influential protest bands, so this selection is particularly relevant for the current Chilean airline strike. So how about CCR’s cover of “Night Time Is the Right Time”, played at Woodstock at approximately 1AM, which is about the same time I at my “night lunch” tonight. I will be sure to listen to this tune while hopefully passing out in my Solan Cama seat on the bus tomorrow. This one goes out to the nocturnal astronomers of LCO.