MagAO-X 2019B Day 9: Third Light

“Can we stop calling it Nth light?”

Dr. Jared Robert Males

Tonight marked MagAO-X’s return to doing AO on starlight rather than an internal calibration source. The Observatory kindly allowed us to remain in place on the platform, so our return to operations was as simple as turning off the lamp and closing the loop on the first bright star we tried.

I’m lying to you, of course. The calibration that had worked so well on night #2 didn’t look nearly as nice when we booted up the system this evening. Alex and Laird had to open up the instrument to make fine adjustments to our pupil image positions. New response matrices had to be taken as well. “But I didn’t change any of this code!” was uttered many times, by many people.

Then we closed loop on a bright star. And it went great. We imaged π Pup and its companion. We even were able to hold on to an Airy ring around the companion! All this, in 1 arcsecond and above seeing (a far cry from Las Campanas Observatory’s trademark 0.5″).

We took the opportunity to record the AO instrument builder’s favorite video: the “now you see it, now you don’t” video.

Note the little point source at 4- and 8-o’clock on the science camera displays at lower right on the screen. Pay no attention to the vizzy behind the curtain. (Video credit: Professor Laird M. Close.)

Of course, capturing this video involved some pretty advanced optics:

Kyle and I drove the twin MagAO-X science cameras tonight. We took some data on pi Pup in various filters for Strehl ratio measurement, measuring the foci in various filters with Maggie’s focus script.

π Pup and companion (near the edge of the image), z’ band, fresh off the autofocus script

We put in our narrowband and continuum methane filters, which will eventually allow us to perform simultaneous differential imaging of exoplanets and detect methane absorption—something we see in planets closer to home, namely Jupiter. For this, however, they were just the narrowband filter available in the instrument best suited to the below-average seeing. (Shorter wavelengths are harder to correct, and our H-α filter would not have looked too good in the conditions we had.)

Next we looked at a close (0.144″) binary, HIP 38160. This wasn’t intended to be a challenging target in terms of contrast, but we were heartened to see it in the dark hole formed by our vAPP.

Image through the vAPP coronagraph, as powerful as it is mysterious. This image has two stars imaged 21 times each, for a total of 42 PSF-ish things.

We also took an on-sky response matrix. This calibration step provides a mapping between our system’s deformable mirror commands and the resulting signal on our wavefront sensor.

We got some good data tonight, learned a bit more about how the system behaves, and have big plans for tomorrow night. (Of course, we also need to move off the platform immediately following that night, and off the mountain shortly after that. Fortunately for Dr. Males and the limits of good taste in blog titles, we’re not getting past “fourth light” this run.)

Today’s MagAO-X Song of the Day:

“Koop Island Blues” by Koop

MagAO-X 2019B Day 8: The Intermission Continues

We’re on the third and final night of the intermission between the MagAO-X on-sky nights. Tomorrow (which is now today), we’ll spin the tertiary around to feed starlight down the waiting maw of MagAO-X for the third time.

In the meantime, we’ve continued to work out bugs, close and refine the loop on our internal source, and argue about future improvements to be made on the instrument. This mostly just looks like fatigued astronomers and grad students frowning at their laptops, which has been covered in some detail in the last two blog posts. Instead, I present a modest selection of images taken around LCO in the last 24 hours:

The sky beginning to lighten behind the Clay and Baade this morning.
Alex captured this stunning photo of a burro silhouetted by the setting sun
Joseph and I went on a successful hunt for wild viscachas behind the Magellan telescopes. We felt a little bad about scaring this guy away, but the sight of his (surprisingly graceful) bounds was worth it. (credit: Joseph)
Zorrito has become a regular outside the dining hall at meal times. (credit: Joseph)

We managed to pull ourselves out of bed before dinner to run (well, drive) up to the Clay for a quick group photo in front of the instrument.

Today’s song is “Hang on Little Tomato” by Pink Martini.

MagAO-X 2019B Day 7: The Eyepiece

Today, we present the eyepiece of MagAO-X!! Back in the day, astronomy was only ever done with an eyepiece. But now, we have far better technology than our own eyeballs to do science. If Galileo or Edwin Hubble were looking down at us, they would probably be jealous.

Hubble looking through the eyepiece of the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory in 1922

Nowadays, telescopes rarely have eyepieces, because the instruments use science cameras to take data instead. But if an instrument does have an eyepiece, it is probably just for fun, so we can feel like Hubble looking through a telescope with our own eyes. That is pretty much why we have an eyepiece for MagAO-X! So that we can see the power of extreme adaptive optics with our own eyes…it’s pretty cool!

The MagAO-X eyepiece was generously donated by the Close family, and it is a work of art. It has a shiny plaque that mimics the traditional tailpiece of a classic telescope.

Laird standing next to his beautiful donation.
Tailpiece of an 1882 6-inch Clark Telescope, very similar to the Steward Observatory 1888 5-inch Clark telescope.

Today, Laird, Maggie, and I tweaked the alignment of the eyepiece optics to make sure it is ready for our next nights on-sky (December 7 and 8). We are planning on using it to see the power of MagAO-X with our own eyes! I took a picture with my smart phone through the eyepiece with our internal light source on. The rainbows you see in the image are due to our 2,000 actuator deformable mirror. There are so many actuators over a small distance that the mirror acts like a diffraction grating!

A smart phone image taken through the eyepiece.
Eyepiece cover.

Jared and Joseph did some work on the electronics rack today. Now we have one additional GPU in the RTC specifically for predictive control calculations.

For the rest of the night, Jared and Olivier continued working on closed loop calibrations and predictive control while Laird, Maggie, Kyle, Joseph and I worked on other MagAO-X stuff.

Jared and Olivier working on AO stuff.
Olivier and his gourmet triple-decker cheese sandwich.
Us working in the break room.
Dr. Close’s “office.”

It is officially Christmas in Chile! They put up a Christmas tree in the lodge.

Christmas tree in the lodge.

Also someone has been feeding one of the zorros, so we have a friendly fox that hangs out by the lodge now. I managed to capture a picture of him hanging out.

The friendly fox.
View of the South from the lodge. GMT site is on the high peak to the right!

And of course, a picture of the sunset for the beginning of our “day.”

Another beautiful sunset at Las Campanas.
The beginning of our day.

MagAO-X 2019B Day 6: Sleepless in La Serena

This title is somewhat misleading, after observing last night most of the team spent the whole day sleeping and stayed up working all of tonight. Olivier and I were the only ones to make it to lunch today and he put it best: “We value food more than the others, or perhaps we value sleep less.” For me, it’s definitely the food thing….

The grad students set up shop in the lounge

The Magellan astronomers were kind enough to let us utilize MagAO-X tonight while they took multi-object spectra with the LDSS3, so the team spent the night at the telescope taking response matrices, debugging code, and beginning some image processing.

The control room became a co-working space

I was finally able to get a nice consistent focus curve for camsci1 in the i-band!

We are finally recording focus positions
Alex and Maggie looking tired but spirited

I got frustrated with the focus code at one point and suggested that I may desire a career change to hedge fund manager, to which Joseph responded was a bad idea. So in honor of that exchange:

MagAO-X 2019B Day 5: Second Light

Today marks another historic and successful night of MagAO-X First Light…First Light Part 2! By the end of the long 24-hour day yesterday, we were all falling asleep in our chairs (except for Olivier who has mastered the art of staying awake). But thanks to Joseph’s heroic efforts, we were still able to produce a worthy blog post for first light of the instrument!

Today we have switched to a night schedule, so our “day” technically started at 6:30pm for dinner and ended at 6:30am for sunrise. But before I continue with MagAO-X Day 5: Second Light, I have some bonus pictures to contribute from yesterday!

Here is a nice model of what MagAO-X and the electronics rack should look like next to the telescope:

Simulated model of MagAO-X and the electronics rack sitting next to the telescope.

The instrument was designed to be placed 1 inch away from the Nasmyth port of the telescope, but we started with the instrument a couple feet away from the telescope to give us room for our alignment procedure.

MagAO-X sitting on the Nasmyth platform a couple feet away from the Nasmyth port.

To align MagAO-X to the telescope, we needed to insert a laser into our instrument that would shine out towards the telescope. The laser light would travel through the Nasmyth port, reflect off of the tertiary mirror, reflect off of the secondary mirror, and return back to us. If light comes back and hits our instrument, then that tells us we are aligned! If not, well, then we have some work to do.

Laird used some handy dandy binoculars to look into the telescope and get an idea of what we were dealing with.

Laird using binoculars to look at the secondary mirror.

Below is what Laird’s view looked like. It is quite confusing, but we can see the tertiary mirror with the primary mirror covers cracked open, and the secondary mirror as the small black circle hiding behind the image of the mirror covers cracked open.

Laird’s point of view

Since we learned in elementary school that 2 points create a line, we needed to create an alignment target in the middle of the Nasmyth port to make sure that our laser beam goes through the center of the Nasmyth port. Then, we looked at the secondary mirror with binoculars to see if the laser was hitting the center of the mirror. Laird used an Italian trick learned by Armando (Laird and Jared’s old colleague from MagAO) to create an alignment target at the Nasmyth port. Laird mimicked the “Armando Pose” to commemorate this neat alignment technique.

Laird’s “Armando pose”
Laird’s alignment target.

Once the alignment target was setup, we inserted our alignment laser into the instrument. The key was to align the laser so that it was aligned to our instrument’s chief ray.

Me handing Laird the alignment laser.
Laird inserting the alignment laser into the instrument.
Lasers on, panels opened.
The alignment laser inserted into the instrument.
The alignment laser shining back through our telescope simulator, aligned to our chief ray.
Me with the alignment laser shining out towards the telescope.

The panels were put back on and the laser shined through the entrance window.

The entrance window with laser light shining through.
Laser light hitting the alignment target and hitting the tertiary to the right.
Laser light hitting our instrument!
Laird looking up at the secondary mirror to find the laser beam.

Since we proved that our alignment method would work, we moved on to the final alignment, which involved bringing the instrument close to the Nasmyth port. We had a fancy alignment rod that helped us keep the instrument centered in X.

Laird in the dark corner, guiding the instrument.
Laird’s picture of the return beam hitting the tertiary mirror and returning to our instrument.

The instrument was moved into place and aligned! We measured the angle of the table with respect to the instrument for future reference using the laser tape.

Laird using the laser tape to measure the distance to one side of the instrument.
Me measuring the other side of the instrument.

Part of the clever MagAO-X design involves a floating optical table…the instrument actually floats on a thin layer of air! No one has done something like this for an astronomical instrument before. The idea is that floating will minimize the amount of vibrations in our instrument. We did a “float test” (turning on the air and watching the instrument) to make sure MagAO-X doesn’t hit the telescope. The air system calibrates itself when turned on, so the table rocks around like a boat until it finds its position. We had to make sure we gave enough room for MagAO-X to do its thing!

The MagAO-X float test!

Finally, Laird removed the alignment laser from the instrument.

Laird removing the alignment laser while Maggie is holding a flashlight.

Jared and Kyle installed the tweeter cables.

Jared and Kyle mounting 2,000 delicate wires.
MagAO-X is here!
Nice wide field photo of the instrument next to the telescope (photo cred: Joseph Long).

And Jared caught in the moment of first light on MagAO-X!

Happy PI Jared Males yelps in celebration of first light.

MagAO-X Day 5: First Light Part 2

Now that I shared my bonus pictures from yesterday’s adventures, here is a quick summary of First Light Part 2! The day started out with a beautiful sunset and calming scenery.

Another beautiful sunset at Las Campanas Observatory.
View of South from the telescope.
View of North at the telescope (photo cred: Maggie Kautz)

Jared and Olivier worked on Olivier’s CACAO program to calibrate the 2K deformable mirror and optimize its performance. There were a lot of improvements from the previous night, and we saw our first on-sky Airy ring!

Laird, Jared, and Olivier putting their minds together.
Joseph, Kyle, and Maggie working on the science camera focusing script.

After a while of calibrations, we closed the loop and we saw our first Airy ring on sky! The left image is z’ band while the right is i band. The images look phenomenal!

First on-sky Airy ring for MagAO-X on HD_29291! Left: z’ band. Right: i band.
First vAPP images on-sky for MagAO-X! Left: Halpha continuum. Right: Halpha.

These are big moments for the MagAO-X team and we are proud of what we have accomplished so far. It feels good to look back and see how far we’ve come.