2017B Day 10: Hey Everybody

Another long night of high winds, high seeing, and generally no good for astronomy conditions.

I had to holler to get everybody to look up.

Jennifer Lumbres is here learning how to run the AO system. Tonight she got to experience her first earthquake as AO operator.


I think this should count for quite a bit in the Adaptive Optics course she’s taking this semester (someone forward this to Michael).

At breakfast, Alycia asked how bright the earthquake was. It is measured in magnitudes, after all.

2017B Day 9: Clouds

The most exciting thing to happen tonight, alas, was the return of our friend the owl. You can see her or him silhouetted nicely here against that white background known as clouds. Note the red and blue dots representing where the telescopes are pointing are straight up overhead — that’s because both domes are closed with both telescopes at rest.

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We were wondering tonight about the attraction of the all sky camera to the owl. Does it reflect some light so it looks like the eye of a small edible critter? Is the owl vain and looking at its reflection? Is the camera just conveniently located on the ridge where there are plentiful mice about? Is one of the staff baiting the camera to keep us entertained? In this era of fake news, my own son accused me of making up the Magellanic Horned Owl, because it seemed too much of a coincidence to him that I’d be sitting at Magellan and seeing the Bubo Magellanicus.

In other wildlife news, today I saw a herd of (loud) burros, one small vizcacha, and a lot of (loud) birds. I had a lovely walk this afternoon when the sun was out, the birds were tweeting, and I was still optimistic the clouds would clear. There seems to be an exceptional amount of greenery and flowers around, as you can see below. During a public outreach event a couple years ago I made a joke about how green plants were bad for astronomy, meaning of course, that plants need water and open domes don’t. OK, so it wasn’t funny and apparently also went over the head of at least one member of my audience who the asked why the stars cared about the plants.



“And there’s something bout the Southland in the springtime.” This wasn’t the South-land that the Indigo Girls had in mind (Texas this is not, and I’m happy to be a Yankee – but not for baseball!), but it does appear to be spring time.

2017B Day 7: What’s in a title? that which we call a title by any other name would obey the rules

It’s been a cloudy couple of nights at Las Campanas.

We’ve watched cloud banks as we walk to the telescope:Photo Aug 31, 19 21 44

Clouds stream overhead as we open the the dome:


Clouds fill the all-sky cam once our targets are up:

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monitored the clouds from space:


saw clouds over the Magellan telescopes from the “Hotel”:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand noted clouds as we walk to breakfast in the minutes before dawn:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Nevertheless, we’ve gotten on sky and collected data. Past bloggers have likened the MagAO team to a F1 pit crew. The racing doesn’t happen  in our little mountain runabouts:The Las Campanas Observatory Hotel Parking Lot

or on the mountain roads:28 km, Las Campanas Observatory Sign

But at the Clio controls, where Katie reminded me it takes an aggressive-just-get out-there-and-start-saving-frames attitude, while you check the exposure times and nodding angles, to come out of a blustery and far-from-photometric Las Campanas night with some data. To strain the auto racing analogy, perhaps this also reflects the an improvisational MagAO “straight out of scratch” street racing attitude. With that we’ll leave you with a song:

2017B Day 6: Undergrad Meets Telescope

After two summers of working with Kate, she let me (an undergrad who has never been observing before) come with her to LCO. In short, this might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, viscachas are my new favorite animal, and I’m realizing more and more how little I know. (According to Kate, knowing what you don’t know is one of the steps on the path from novice to expert, so I’m making progress.)

I’ve spent the past two summers reducing MagAO data, and have been getting by with nothing more than a basic knowledge of the data reduction pipeline and enough background to briefly explain to someone sitting next to me on an airplane what I’m doing with my life. Since getting here, I’ve realized that all of the instrumentation is slightly more complicated than the 10 second explanation’s I’ve memorized over the past year, but everyone here has been so patient with me and has explained everything so well. I’ve learned much more than I could’ve hoped to.

Kate has even let me drive visao and, while it took some getting used to, I’ve gotten pretty good at pressing “Enter” (grad schools please accept me). It’s been pretty cool fully realizing that astronomical data doesn’t come straight from a hard drive, and that the little blobs of light in all the images actually are stars. Everything has become so much more real.

As far as tonight goes, things have been quite cloudy so we had to stop taking data pretty early, but before then I did get to see the very large telescope spin very quickly to follow a star with a very sharp transit.

The only thing that could add more pressure to writing this blog post is having to pick a song to go with it. Also, the wifi is down on the mountain which isn’t much help.

It is way past my bedtime.