MagAO Commissioning Day 25: So Long to the Night

Tonight is the last on-sky night for MagAO in 2012. Don’t panic. We’ll be back with a vengeance in Spring, 2013!

And just in time too! Jared and KT's coffee supply ran out tonight!

We began the night tonight by looking at a bright star that Runa chose for calibration. Upon further inspection, and much to our surprise, it turned out to be a heretofore unknown binary! We’re calling it “Runa’s star” and will have to follow up on our next run.

These images were taken in greater than 0.8" V band seeing. That's roughly 75%-ile here. VisAO has performed very well.

We also commissioned a few of the more exotic Clio modes today, including the Apodizing Phase Plate (technical link, non-technical link) and Non-Redundant Masks (technical link, non-technical link).  Both of these techniques are designed to probe the regions close to a star. One (APP) allows you to achieve extra high contrast close to your star (distinguishing faint planets from bright stars) and the other (NRM) allows you to image the inner regions of a system at extra high spatial resolution.

Katie with an NRM image... and soup.

On the VisAO side, we managed to achieve, as our PI describes it, “the highest resolution image ever taken in the universe”. This means that we had great seeing and great AO correction and looked through our shortest wavelength (“bluest”) filter – [OI] at 6300Angstroms. We were able to achieve resolutions of <25milliarcseconds. An arcsecond is 1/3600th of a degree, so 25 milliarcsecond resolution means we can distinguish objects that are separated by only 0.0000007 degrees on the sky! By contrast, the resolution of the human eye is a paltry 16 arcseconds or so. Stay tuned for Laird to write a paper with a title something like his quote above.

Me operating VisAO. Jared wanted me to post this to demonstrate that he's not the only one who can operate it. In fact, his GUI is excellent. I'm pretty sure he'll be obsolete soon.

Don’t stop reading the blog because we’re pulling MagAO off the telscope tomorrow either! We’re taking lots and lots of data home that we will have to analyze “for real” instead of on the fly at 3am. We expect to do much better when we return to Arizona, triumphant and well rested! We’ll be keeping you updated as we begin to quantify our on-sky performance for future observers, establish bragging rights, prepare for conferences and make new scientific discoveries.

Quotes of the Day:

“Clio sucks!” -nameless Clio operator

[sadly] “What? Your TO sucks?” – Jorge, the TO (Telescope Operator)

“Time to leave this valley of tears” -Runa. Apparently having a new star named after him wasn’t enough to counter the valley of tears effect.

“If my plane crashed, I would still want you to graduate” -Kate to Jared, after he showed her the data drive she would be taking back on the plane with her. We’re sending several copies on several planes just in case. I swear this was going to be a quote even before I agreed to write the blog post!

In honor of our last night on sky, I’ll leave you with some of the nighttime shots that I’ve taken this week.

Before I learned to focus my camera properly for star shots, I took this slightly blurry picture of the southern Milky Way. You'll see the southern cross near the lefthand edge of the frame and the LMC (more on this in the next caption) on the right.
The Large and Small Magellenic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way that are visible to the naked eye in the southern hemisphere. Although he certainly wasn't the first to see them, Magellan noticed them on one of his voyages and so they are named after him. The red dashed line on the left is a plane with it's lights flashing, and not a UFO.
More like a sunset shot than a nighttime shot, but I thought that I should point out that the moon has gone through almost a full cycle since we arrived!
A 2hr star trail that I took last night. I set my camera up outside at sunset to take three of these during the evening. You can see that the telescope was pointed at several places during this interval, as several dome orientations are superimposed.
After the first shot, my camera blew over. TJ thought this shot was cooler than the first one. I was confused at first because I thought one of the other telescopes on the mountain had a laser guide star system... and was pointing it at the ground (dummies!). It's actually a highway, which makes much more sense!
The skies of LCO
My favorite. A 2hr star trail shot that I set up before I hiked up to the telescope one night. The psychedelic red lights are the taillights of cars driving up and down to the telescopes. No headlights though!