2015B Summary

We made it back home! The strike ended the day we flew out so we didn’t end up riding the bus from La Serena to Santiago, but thanks to Nelda for arranging that so that we were sure to get there either way. And thanks to Juan Gallardo and the rest of the crew for their careful work removing the ASM and the Nas from the Clay in 1 day so that we could get home in time for the holidays! After 32 hours of travel and 4 airplanes, 2 buses, 5 taxis, and 1 tram, we are happy to be safe and sound in Tucson. And here’s what I got to enjoy after jump-starting my car, eating, showering, and napping:

Cats are doing well

We had 25 nights of MagAO+VisAO+Clio and 3 nights of MagAO+VisAO+PhaseCam. It was a good run for the 25 MagAO+VisAO+Clio nights which involved planets, disks, and other exciting science; and fun for us to see a new instrument mounted behind MagAO and playing well with VisAO for the 3 nights testing the GMT AGWS prototype PhaseCam. Amali Vaz and Kim Ward-Duong came from Arizona and ASU to help out, and we had observers from Arizona, Carnegie, Chile, Harvard, Michigan, and Stanford.

A lot happened this run! Amali won the first MagAO blog prize; Our paper by Sallum, Follette, et al. on the discovery of hydrogen accretion onto proto-planet LkCa 15 b was published; Our paper Morzinski et al. on the first empirical measurement of the energy of young super-Jupiter beta Pic b went from accepted to proofs to published; MagAO results were featured on the home page of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute; Jared’s new collaborators came for a visit (more on that later); and we managed to stay happy and healthy thanks to the great staff at LCO and El Pino!

For the song of the day, we started with You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive:

and ended with Pequeña serenata nocturna de Mozart, primer movimiento (Allegro):

Thanks to all our great bloggers this run for playing the song-of-the-day game!

And finally, thanks to NSF, NASA, NExScI Sagan, and UA for supporting our instrument and work, and all our family and friends at home who help take care of our Tucson-side lives while we are away for 5+ weeks at a time. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2016.

2015B Día 34: Última noche en LCO.

He revisado las Reglas del Blog y nada dice sobre el idioma que debe utilizarse. Por eso, lo haré en español, una licencia para el último día del equipo MagAO en el Observatorio Las Campanas.

Aún no se sabe si viajarán a Santiago en bus o avión, la huelga terminó esta tarde.

Durante las 33 noches de observaciones más las noches previas y posteriores nos deja muchas satisfacciones, como Operador de Telescopios Magallanes hemos podido vivir los avances que se lograron día a día (osea noche a noche), superando dificultades técnicas, sufriendo el clima y obteniendo datos de alto nivel científico.

Este run hemos apreciado fotos muy variadas y novedosas, flora, fauna, Luna, telescopio, instrumentos nuevos, astronomía, clima, comida, paisajes desde el Observatorio.

Difícil competir con algunas imágenes pues mis fotos son de un iPhone 3, igual me atrevo a compartirlas con Ustedes. Les he puesto nombre para identificarlas.

1. Naturaleza y tecnología. El brillo que se aprecia al medio de la foto (algunos milímetros) son un array de paneles solares.


2. Naturaleza y tecnología. Aquí tenemos la Luna, cóndor chileno y la tecnología de un camión-grúa.


3. Naturaleza y tecnología. La Luna desde el interior de la cúpula del Baade.


4. Naturaleza pura. Cóndor chileno.


Me preparé varias veces para elegir la canción del día, basándome en la de la noche anterior.

Comencé con la confusión que siempre tengo entre Ella Fitzgerald y Aretha Franklin, cierto que los nombres no se parecen pero igual me confunden.

Considerando Stars Wars y La marcha Imperial pensé en “Starman” de David Bowie, además que me recuerda a mi adolescencia y los sueños con el futuro, qué había más allá.

Ya no está relacionada con la noche previa pero igual la incluyo porque es un clásico.

Brian ha elegido “Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. Es una canción de la película Fantasía de Walt Disney. Me gusta también por los recuerdos de infancia.

Considerando que un antiguo Operador de Telescopio ha pasado por todos los estilos musicales que nos traen los Astrónomos, he pensado en seleccionar música clásica, si me permiten.

Pequeña serenata nocturna de Mozart, primer movimiento (Allegro). Me parece que es el más conocido.

Nos vemos el próximo año: 2016A

That’s all Folks!

2015B Day 33: Wrapping it up, and a few animals.

Greetings from the 3rd and final night of the GMT phasing experiment, and also the final night of the 2015B AO run!   We are in the process of designing a sensor that will be used to phase the segments of the Giant Magellan Telescope.  The GMT will have  seven 8.4m diameter primary mirrors and seven 1m secondary mirrors.  Each of those pairs must have the same separation to within 50nm!   Our team from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has built an experiment uses the MagAO system to simulate what the GMT sensor will see.  Over the past three nights we’ve taken a bunch of data that will allow us to verify our design for the GMT.

One of the pleasures of coming to Las Campanas is getting to see a variety of wildlife that we don’t get to see back home and this trip was no different.  Here’s some photos I’ve taken over the years – all these critters have made an appearance on this trip.  The computers up here are named after them – well except for the crawly one.

Here’s some of the regulars up here, the burros.


The vizcachas love to hang out under the eaves of the astronomer support building, or to watch the sunset.  We see them when we walk up to the telescope in the evening.  Regulars to this blog know Vizzy as the MagAO mascot.

IMG_2117 IMG_2490

We saw this guy a few years back hanging out in the Clay Telescope control room.  One of the local staff declared it harmless, but on the other hand he didn’t volunteer to remove it from the premises…  Tonight we saw one on the road as we walked up after dinner.



The guanacos are my favorites.  I’ve only seen them at a distance on this trip, but a few months back I got a nice view of this family near the mountain hotel.


Still on the list of critters to capture “on film” is the Andean condor.  Haven’t seen one yet this trip.  Well that’s it for the fauna tour.  It’s been a productive but very busy visit to Las Campanas.  Both our crew from Cambridge and the MagAO masters will be here another day to pack up before we all take the bus to Santiago on Monday.

One other note:  two evenings ago several members of our group saw their first green flash!  Others who were not outside remain skeptical.  No luck last night. Maybe tomorrow.

And the song of the day, continuing on yesterdays “night” theme, is Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.  This seems appropriate since the purpose of this trip was preparing for the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will go on Las Campanas Peak, currently a very bald mountain.

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.


2015B Day 32: My new toy

I am Ken McCracken the mechanical engineer on the AGWS project.  I have been to LCO about ten times since 2008 primarily to support the MMIRS instrument. Other than the 24 hours of travel time it takes to get here I can’t think of a better place to work given the exceptional facility and accommodating staff. I may retract that statement if I get stuck here over Christmas because of the airport worker strike but at the moment I’m being hopeful.

Here is some background on this blog’s title. This past spring we moved MMIRS from LCO to the MMT. Since Mt Hopkins is likely a more humid environment than LCO I was asked to work on a task for the MMIRS instrument that involved adding external surface heaters to the instrument. MMIRS is an LN2-cooled instrument and its surface temperature is typically just below ambient temperature giving it the potential for condensation. The new heaters are intended to raise the surface temperature to the ambient minimizing the condensation potential and the problems condensation can create for electronics and electrical connections.

About the same time I was given this task I saw an ad online for a low-cost IR camera that you could plug into your phone. The FLIR One comes in two versions; android and iphone. Since I am the only one in the group with an android phone this meant that I and I alone could use the new IR camera.  🙂   Yes it will be a very useful tool for this MMIRS task in checking surface heater attachment, power distribution and ultimately the surface temperature, but also by selecting the android version this meant that Derek Kopon could not borrow it for his home improvement projects.  He’d have to hire me as a consultant to evaluate his need for new windows and additional insulation. (See what you get for making my blog user name theCRACKEN!)  So after two or three justification emails to the MMIRS administrator and the PI Brian McLeod the purchase was authorized. The camera was to be delivered in early to mid September – just in time for the planned trip to the MMT to install the heaters.

Unfortunately the camera arrived at the end of November much too late for the MMIRS trip. While the IR camera did not have any planned use for the AGWS Prototype trip I brought it to try it out and it has produced some very cool images I hope you will enjoy. The camera comes with nine different color contrasting schemes to display temperature gradients.

Here is my version of the Clay Telescope in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe style:

First Clay composite

I think some of the best shots are of the gravel on the ground outside the telescopes:

Gravel Composite

Here is most of the AGWS / Magellan AO team shot at the NASE in front of the AGWS Prototype and Mag AO (Derek Kopon, Bill Podgorski, Alan Conder, Brian McLeod, Ken McCracken, Dan Catropa, Jared Males, Laird Close):


Here is some of the AGWS / Magellan AO team and telescope personnel in the Clay control room (Brian McLeod, Bill Podgorski, Derek Kopon, Laird Close, Katie Morzinski , Jorge Araya, Povilas Palunas):


Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your blog. And to get some digs in on Derek.


Ken McCracken

Finally to fulfill my blog music requirement and given last night the selection was “Stardust” by Lester Young I thought of the lyrics in Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock”.  “We are stardust, We are golden,…”