MagAOX 2024Ab Day 16: I Still Believe

The Picard Principle states:

“It is possible to commit no mistakes, and still lose.”

That is life.

My wrap-up posts have always been somewhat triumphant. But not this time, ‘cuz that just sucked.

To be clear the MagAO-X team did what they always do, and the instrument was ready to rock like we always keep it. We’re all just bummed that we didn’t get to let it off the chain to go hunting planets and disks and other exciting things. We just sat there, sometimes actually hiding under a blanket.

A quote:

“Laird and I agree that this was the worst continuous stretch of bad seeing we have seen in all that time.”

Morons. Apropos from this run:

“Why would you say that?”

It can always get worse. One’s dome has to be open for one to measure seeing. As I type this in my room, body trying to decide what schedule we’re going to follow tonight, my window is vibrating as the wind climbs and the stars fiercely twinkle.

Why not blow us off the mountain?

As Leden said, Jay, Josh, and I stayed an extra day to get one more Empanada Sunday.

They’re even better with seafood soup.

Since we were here, and to make sure it was a business expense, we did take the time to re-cable MagAO-X. Best 15 minutes: split over two 7.5 minute moments when the MEMS deformable mirrors came alive with no problems and we didn’t have to re-cable.

If exao1 has your key, MagAO-X is all yours.

We’ll be back, probably in November. In the mean time, MagAO-X is available for any eXtreme Wavefront Control experiments you have. A few of us will stop by around September to tighten some bolts, etc.

Don’t worry. It can always get better too.

I must confess, I still believe.

MagAO-X 24Ab Day 15: Time to roll out

Last time, on We were still having weather. Your AO operator valiantly tried to lock the loop on a 10th magnitude star through patchy cirrus before our observers took pity and let us switch to something brighter. But finally TO Hernán got the call, stepped outside for some professional cloud watching, and the dome closed at around 11pm. The first shift crew trickled out, the second shift trickled in, and I got caught somewhere in between taking calibrations on our internal source. I took the bright moon walk down the hill, appreciated what I could of the night and the cold before finally heading to bed at 2am.

The patchy clouds responsible for our WFS’ variable flux.
A moon bow! Just the right thickness of cloud to get a ring of scattered light from the full moon.

The take down crew (Laird, Logan and I) caught up with the returning night shifters (Jared, Joseph, Jay, and Josh) at breakfast. (Am I self-conscious about being the only violation of the first letter name crew segregation? A little.) Turns out we did reopen! Around 3am the clouds cleared enough for us to rush to the transit for Gabriele’s early morning target. Only for wind to spike and seeing go from 0.8 to 1.5as soon after. Just before sunrise, they called it, and started the decabling soon after. Gabriele, though not captured, helped out too. A champion among guest observers. You’re welcome back any time, Gabriele!

DM decabling in the wee hours of the morning.

Night crew, full of orange juice and toast (as per PI procedure), headed for bed while us day crew revved our way up to the mountain. We only realized how much we had to thank the decable crew for when we rolled up to the platform. They had made our jobs a walk in the park. Cables and electronics box already down on the dome floor, the cart ready to go, with the bumpers out of the way, MegaDesk completely dismantled int the control room. They won’t always tell you they love you, but there will be signs.

We still had plenty of work to do to get out of the telescope’s way by noon, when the next night’s instrument would be rolled into our place. Yesterday we met before dinner to go over the procedure, and this morning we expertly executed said procedure. Except a few bolts that felt especially sticky (*COUGH* legs side B outer bolt *COUGH COUGH*), the cart and lifting hardware behaved itself beautifully.

At the briefing yesterday, everyone was very briefed on the new lift position.
I hold the instrument steady as the cart gets assembled.
Laird and Logan reattaching the hardware that keeps pur instrument safe from earthquakes.

Juan and his crew helped us go from legs to cart, cart to elevator, elevator to 40ph wind tunnel, to the final tour town the hill. Laird was there to help oversee the careful maneuvers with our precious wheel-bound table of optics. He was also there to document just HOW MUCH WIND we’re talking about.

The wind was so strong it knocked over Laird!
Baade, snow capped mountians, an AO instrument on the move.
Movign the electronics rack back to the clean room.

Where were Logan and I? Frantically shuttling computer parts, cables, and all our other bits and bobs out of the telescope and down the hill. We try hard to be polite and get MagAO-X junk out of the control room ASAP. As it happens, ASAP turns out to take 3 car trips of stuff and gets us done just before lunch. And MagAO-X is back where we want it, cozy and protected from the elements in the cleanroom antechamber.

Everyone is back in the cleanroom, and room temperture.

AND POOF. We’re back! Actually after lunch I fell asleep for an exertion-induced nap, during which Laird, Juan and crew got us back on legs and back in action. The afternoon was full of unwrapping, dusting, power supply cursing musings, and positioning MagAO-X where it will live for the summer before we come back down for 24B.

MagAO-X positioned in the cleanroom to maximize 1) sharable space with other isntruments and 2) sticker visibility.

What does it take to get MagAO-X cleanroom ready? A lot of organizing, reshuffling, and repeating steps we did on the telescope platform. There were a few special quirks with the new placement in the cleanroom and making sure everything got the power it needed.

A timelapse by Jay of Laird floating the table. Watch that control loop work!
The mega desk downgrade, in which Joseph talks sense into AOC.

Some of the crew (Jared Jay Josh – J^3) will be staying an extra day to make sure everything is in good condition for our summer remote ops. As for the rest of us, this is our last night at LCO for the 24A runs! For the special occasion, we made sure that we took a last sunset as a team, with a special surprise for Jared.

The largest sunset group photo. See reflections for a captured Josh.

The glasses looked so good, how could we not take a few extra shots?

Best 15 minutes of the day? Finding out there was pizza for dinner, eating pizza, thinking fondly of the pizza, and getting a second serving of pizza. But of course, the pizza tastes better with the laughs shared at dinner with our AO family.

Song of the Day

Today’s song brought to you by the bitter sweet of leaving the mountain after a hard run.

Head in the Clouds by The Beths

MagAO-X 2024Ab Day 15: Something is better than nothing

Hi! I’m Jensen, a PhD student at MIT and one of this run’s guest observers. This was my first time at Las Campanas Observatory (or any observatory, for that matter), so naturally the universe bestowed upon us the cloudiest, windiest, rainiest, and snowiest May week at LCO in recent memory. The usually featureless “Metro”blue forecasts were often filled with harbingers of astronomical doom. That being said, I’ve loved my time here and hope to come back for future runs!

Today started off strong. The clouds were sparse, the wind was mild, and humidity was low. The local fauna clearly noticed the improvement in conditions, because some grazing guanacos made an appearance for the first time this week.

A juvenile guanaco enjoying the sun. Credit: Gabriele Cugno.

To make the most of the good weather, and to commemorate my last (full) day at LCO this run, I took myself on a self-guided tour of the LCO grounds. It was fun to see the Irénée du Pont and Henrietta Swope Telescopes up close after several days of admiring them from afar.

The Henrietta Swope Telescope.

As frequently happens at LCO, a lovely sunset closed out our daylight hours. A mountain view like this is hard to beat.

My last sunset of the 2024Ab run.

Now, the moment we had all been waiting for: nightfall. The (relatively) clear conditions from earlier in the day had persisted, and after much anticipation, we were finally able to open the dome. The hunt for Hα companions could resume!

She’s alive! Finally some on-sky time with MagAO-X.

Unfortunately, just as the sky giveth, the sky taketh away. After a couple hours of patchy clouds and low- to mid-tier seeing, the clouds returned with a vengeance and forced dome closure. Thus ended our short-lived excursion into actually doing astronomy at a telescope. Some observing is better than none at all, though. At least we generated a few new .fits files in our time at LCO.

On the bright side, things can only get better from here – I look forward to returning and seeing everything to southern sky has to offer!

The Best 15 Minutes

My favourite part of today was when the Clay Telescope’s dome, at long last, opened. I never thought that watching metal panels slide and fold could be so exciting.

The Clay Telescope points skyward after a week of inactivity.

The Song of the Day

Today’s song of the day, for obvious reasons, is Nuages from Nocturnes by Debussy.

xwcl admin addendum

The blog operators would like to include these two photos collected by the rest of the team of our guest observers enjoying a clear sunset:

Gabriele Cugno enjoying the sunset from the hill.
Jensen and Gabriele from the catwalk.

MagAO-X 2024Ab Day 14: What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like puddles in a dome floor?
Or fester like astronomers on night schedules with nothing to do?
Does it stink like the Atacama desert in the rain?
Or crust and sugar over like flan in the LCO dining room fridge?
Maybe it just sags like Gabriele’s shoulders?
Or does it explode?

The rain has stopped and the clouds are gone but we are still closed. The humidity is still high, apparently high enough to keep the dome from drying. It’s still dripping, so the telescope cover is closed and MagAO-X is covered in plastic. It’s still Gabriele’s night so he’s struggling to hang on to hope.

But we can’t even go on the internal source to do some engineering, because the puddles have everything off.

MagAO-X wrapped up in plastic

Puddles on the Nasmyth

Laird is still decommissioning MagAO. He was up early enough to catch the remnants of the overnight snowstorm before it all melted an hour later:

Jared spent some time tonight dismantling his PhD project, the visible arm of MagAO, VisAO.

Eden sunset

Vizzy snuggles. Photo Credit: Laird

The best 15 mins of my day were when my friends made a birthday call. The only place I could find to go that wouldn’t disturb anyone and wasn’t icy wind was in the dome, which was all lit up cause of the water.

I know! It’s crazy, because my feet are so large, but i was never into swimming

Jared said VM to me again *cry face*

This spaghetti tastes so much better than glycol

“This isn’t a cheese focused story!
It’s merely cheese adjacent” *sad face*

It flagged every instance of ‘cloud’ as ‘butt’, but I couldn’t let it go to press that way…

The song of the day is for Gabriele:

MagAO-X 2024Ab Day 13: When the rain starts bouncing, you know it’s bad

This is my seventh trip to Las Campanas Observatory (I think?) and the first time I’ve seen actual, bona-fide precipitation in the Atacama desert. I woke up at 2pm to the gentle patter of rain on my windows, and emerged blinking into daylight. I did try to document it with my phone, but in my sleep-addled state I apparently double-tapped the “record” button and ended up taking some neat videos of the ground.

Fortunately, the early shift was up and could take some pictures.

Over to the west we have some low cumulus and to the east we have oh my god run it’s coming (Photo by Logan Pearce)

Vizzy Viscacha was wise to stay under cover as the storm rolled in. Even MagAO-X had to be tucked in safe and dry.

Note that additional measures were taken to ensure MagAO-X aridity. (Photo by Laird Close)

Then, it started really snowing.

Optical depth illustrated (Video by Laird Close)

Laird is the only one brave enough to venture forth from the lodge. He had to get MagAO (not -X) packed up for its international shipment.

Where is the sciatic nerve, anyway? (Photo provided by Laird)

After the snow, we got a snow-bow!

I should request a room change. It’s not fair that the rainbow is only at the La Silla apartments.

Unfortunately, our guest observers Gabriele Cugno from Michigan and Jensen Lawrence from MIT have had just about the worst weather I’ve ever seen here. In fact, this brief break in the clouds after dinner was when Gabriele got his best chance to observe:

Finally, some stars! (Photo by Logan Pearce)

Then the hailstorm started.

(Or maybe it was a graupelstorm?)

Today, by the numbers:

New SSH/VPN questions: 2
Spurious Python environments purged: 11
Night lunches recovered from shutdown: 4
Stars: 14 ish?
Hailstones and/or graupelstones: ≫14
Adaptive secondary mirrors: 1 (slightly used)

Best 15 Minutes of the Day

Probably the rainbow. I swear, natural phenomena here look just the way they are depicted in children’s book illustrations.

Song of the Day

This song of the day is not observer-approved.

“Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

Remarks overheard

“So, by the way, how does a pyramid wavefront sensor actually work?”
[rueful laughter in response]

“Whatever. I have no excuses, but I’m also not sorry.”