MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 22: Home again, but not for long

And no, the solar farms that LOOK like lakes don't count.
First sighting of a large water body since early March.

Like any triumphant victory, the champions must eventually turn homeward. After an amazing few weeks of scientific discoveries, engineering miracles, and accidental binary friends, we packed up our many multi-terabyte hardrives and headed down all 8000 ft back down on our way home.

Both the tree, and the grass, and really anything green in this picture felt novel after the Atacama.
The pine that makes the lodge el Pino.
What does he see? And why does the hallway just end there?
Traveler above a sea of fog, colorized, 2024
Rough stuff when your world class proposed telescope's poster is sun-faded...
A dreamy model GMT, bigger than the ones we have back home.

We had an early morning bus filled with some napping, clear skies and a view of the bay. Post drive we got a quick break at El Pino, enjoyed the sights, touched grass, and confirmed that there was still that weird vizzy people were calling a rabbit. After a brief respite of healthier snacks and preferred beverages, we all packed back in the van and left for the La Serena airport. All except for Josh, who by a cruel twist of fate was the only lab member who got completely rebooked with a separate itinerary back to Tucson. We miss him to this day.

We bring so many grad students so that we have spares for moments like these.
Last known photo of Josh Liberman.

And then the whirlwind of luggage hauling, TSA searches, elite lounge scouring, airplane sitting, more TSA, and sleep-deprived airport navigation began. Despite the 36 hours in transit, we did make time for the important traditions.

Not all group members were made aware of the "pre-TSA" memo and we regret the omission.
Cervezas and papas fritas pre Las Serena TSA.
He's sure we will show up, any minute now.
Post-TSA Jay, plane watching.
Previous reports were rash, Josh was eventually found.
Inducting the uninitiated into the SCL Terminal E Ruby Tuesdays Pisco sour fanclub.

But just like that, or maybe “after all that”, we finally emerged blinking in the Tucson sun. After clunky suitcases were retrieved, goodbyes were brief. It’s hard to be sentimental on dubious amounts of red-eye sleep and to people you have just spent three weeks secluded mountain top, stepping on their toes.

Telescopes? At MY baggage claim?
One of the many attractions of Chile includes some friends, the Gemini telescope.

But like any epic tale, why not tell it twice? Your favorite AO squad couldn’t resist the encore to such a successful run, and we will be back in May for 24Ab. In the meantime we will be catching up on our sleep debt, hugging our loved ones, and quickly putting in a load of laundry.

Song of the Day:

Sing us out, Piano Man.

Vienna by Billy Joel.

MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 21: Time To Offload

Offloading is a major, but sometimes under-appreciated, part of an AO system. It makes sense when you really think about what we’re doing. The moving part of the Magellan Clay Telescope weighs more than 100 tons (I don’t know the exact number, but that is the OOM that has stuck in my head from somebody telling me that once). But what we actually do for a living is wiggle tiny little pieces of silicon with a few atoms of gold or silver on top, in response to massless particles streaming through the atmosphere, all in a quest to achieve nanometer or better control over the universe. Over time the little wiggles turn into big wiggles, and we have to send them to the next bigger thing. We call this offloading, and in MagAO-X there’s a whole chain of it from our coronagaph deformable mirror to our pyramid+tweeter DM system (where the real magic happens) to our woofer, and from there to the telescope itself. Inside those main control loops there are other control loops that are adding steps to the dance. Loops on loops. There’s a certain absurdity to our little concerns getting dumped onto the majestic Clay telescope and pushing it around.

A way to analogize offloading: imagine flying to the other side of the world to a remote mountain top, being given a bunch of urgent tasks (some of which are impossible but nobody knew that until you failed), then suddenly switching to a night schedule, sleeping for 4 or 5 hrs a day (not night) for two weeks straight, and then suddenly switching to a day schedule so you can undo everything you spent the last two weeks doing. You can imagine that you’ll build up a little … stress… that’s hard to hold and you need to … offload it. Well it’s time to hit the ol’ dump button. You might not hear from us for a while.

Maybe as long as six weeks.

The last sunset.

So that’s it. MagAO-X is off the telescope after a truly amazing run. We’ve really hit our stride as a productive scientific instrument. I lost track of how many new things about the universe we discovered on this run, and #nospoilers anyway. At the same time I am leaving, as always, a little frustrated by the ways in which MagAO-X isn’t yet perfect, not yet meeting my expectations. Every new discovery comes with a lesson for how to do it better next time.

An image of Crux and Alpha & Beta Centauri rising over the Babcock Lodge at Las Campanas Observatory

Without a doubt the best thing about this project is that it is fun. The fun started with MagAO, and a long running tradition on this blog is the “quotes of the day”. It comes and goes, even during this run. Back “in the day” it became a problem because we realized people were just saying things hoping to get famous. Later on, it got us kicked of the Steward front page (still banned AFAICT, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). As a reader, you should know that some fraction of the quotes have always been just straight made up. The lessons are that the quote log can be used for good, for evil, and sometimes it gets things done. Well, so anyway, here’s a PI-curated selection of quotes from this run. #overheard

“The control room is likely to be completely overrun. Keep calm and make sure you have a chair”

“take that speckles”

“This is a public cheese. Everyone has to use this cheese.”

“Who is Jahlishus?”

“Blog ops is completely unrecognizable. All it is is fucking penguins and Dall-E viscachas.”

“Which is almost a triggering thing for Jared… I’m kind of disappointed he’s not here to hear that”

“Let’s see if I can install zoom before the sun sets”

“Oh. My. God. We’re over 2 arcseconds.”
“We’re going to need a bigger plot.”
“This is just all sadness…”
“I don’t want to go up there to the sadness party”

“When conditions are like this, it feels like nothing works… because nothing works.”

“I have way too many laptops”

“I spent my whole postdoc finishing my Ph.D.”

“If you’re okay I’m going to take a break … for breakfast … what time is it?”

“the units are ‘play around and find out’”
(Ed: shortly thereafter the SI unit FAFO was coined)

“We had everything wrong”

“g band is horrible.  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy”

“We deserve strehls better than 20%”

“I’m not doing science, I’m doing AO”

“But I thought AO was easier in the visible?!”

“You see that?”
“I know.” 

“what’s that second speckle???”
“…. OH that’s Pi Pup B!”

“Who knew it would actually work?”

“You cannot hit the grad students”

“that is a really large blueberry”

“… ah this is the 4th time I’ve heard about ‘The little guy’, Can I see what you’re talking about?”

“I stared at him and thought ‘Why are you not making my salad’ “

“oh that tingled. oh wait I am electrocuting myself.”

“So the only thing misaligned in your system was the cardboard?”

“except that it imploded during shipping, it works really well!”

“You don’t do that with geese but I didn’t know that at the time”

“I’m stealing fruit for my next couple days of breakfasts. I’ve been stealing a little bit every day. I have a little pile of fruit in my room.”

“Zernike polynomials, you’re my bitch now”

“I found our nuts at Baade! Those Bastards!”

“I appreciate that you’re always working on bullshit when you’re here”

“I love it here”

“I’ll bet you all your empanadas for the rest of the run”
“… nothing is worth that”

“More people will read your blog than your PhD”

“Go ahead and take a dump.”

I love stories about a crew. LOTR, Firefly, The Expanse. I found this song through Yellowstone, which on its surface appears to be about one dude/family but I think is more properly understood as a crew story. The song itself sort of captures my mood about our ongoing attempt to achieve the fundamental limits of wavefront control. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing. We have a good crew, so we’ll get there.

or maybe, lol.

MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 20: A Day and a Halffert

Tonight was an oddball: we were off the telescope for another observer for the first half, then came up at 1:30 for the second half, which was solely Sebastiaan on VIS-X, our spectrograph. So we had half a Haffert night.

Various angles of Sebastiaan squinting at spectra

It also the last night of the run, so you know what that means: spending all day getting MagAO-X off the telescope and put away for the May run. Some of us slept for the first half of the night, including me. I went to bed after dinner and slept until 12:30am and it was glorious. At the end of night we will go up on the platform and de-cable the instrument. Then we head to bed and the morning crew, who went to bed around midnight or so, will get up and get ‘er off the platform with the LCO crew. We will join them again after lunch. Fortunately we don’t have to prepare for shipping this time and only have to button her down until May.

We ended up observing well into dawn so we got a late start on decable, the morning crew came up as we got started. Pics from decable crew:

And with that we retired to our room for a few hours while morning crew takes over.

And there is the 8am down-the-mountain transport picking up riders. That’ll be us tomorrow fam.

Anyway here is an assortment of pics for your viewing pleasure.

So milky. Credits to Sebastiaan (left) and Jialin (right)

Large and Small Magellenic (Milky?) Clouds, only visible from the southern hemisphere. Photo by Eden.

Keep a lookout for the upside-down Orion constellation to the left here. Proof the Earth is a sphere. Photo credit to Sebastiaan.

Eden got some incredible Carlos footage I felt wasn’t properly displayed here, so here’s some fox for you. (Not a true fox)

He is a look-don’t-touch friend.

Yesterday was April fools but on Day 19 we couldn’t get our act together to post something witty.

The day before was Easter Sunday. So here is a repost of the Easter Viz

The song of the day is Break It Down Again by Tears for Fears.

MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 19: The Happy MagAO-X Bunny

Today was our second to last night and our last engineering night. We all woke up (or went to bed) with a happy surprise because today was Easter. We all got some chocolates and some unknown piece of candy.

The bag of candy that everyone got.
The interesting textured candy that is not chocolate.

The night itself went all over the place. We did a lot of coronagraph engineering and EFC tests. These went well for the conditions that we had to work in. And, we were able to squeeze in some time for on-sky testing of the Holographic Dispersed Fringe Sensor (TM). It is the sensor that we are developing to phase the segmented primary of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

The HDFS showing off all its barberpoles. Each fringe here is sensitive to a differential piston between segments.

After the HDFS engineering, we went to A Cen. One might think that this is Alpha Centauri but this is definitely not true! We observed A Cen and it was not Alpha Centauri, it was a random other bright star. We only realized this after aligning the whole system. The telescope operator was quickly given a new catalogue that contained only Alpha Cen so that we did not make the same mistake again. We stayed on Alpha Cen for almost the whole night. The night was wrapped up with some Baade’s Window and another accelerating star with a low-mass companion. All-in-all a pretty good night, even though we had some setbacks.

Today, Carlos was sneaking around the lodge. Eden was on the ball and shot some incredible pictures of Carlos. It is trying to sneak around and find food around the lodge. A little bit up the road to the telescope, Jared encountered a horse together with its baby horse.

Today was a good day for animal viewing. In a couple of months you will find our Andean wild life documentary on Netflix.

For today we are going with an astronomy themed song!

MagAO-X 2024Aa Day 18: The Cha-Cha night

Another day of observing for the MagAO-X Team at LCO.

Even though the inmensity of the Pacific Ocean is not observed from Las Campanas, as the sun sets over the west the twin Magellan Telescopes get ready for a new night of work.

As always the local fauna provide their company to the daily(nightly) routines of the observers and staff at LCO. Here, portraiting a fox and a nice chinchilla(do not confuse it with its bigger cousin the vizcacha) chilling in the mountain

The night started with some alignment calibrations as we waited for the targeted to transit around midnight. Overall good weather and clear skies for most of the nigth, so hopefully there will be exciting images coming out from today.

A sequence of sources at the Chameleon constellation baptised the day as the Cha-Cha day

After a long night of observations, the team is ready to not start the day and go to bed at dawn 🙂

Song of the Day

Even though the night seemed promising to choose a Cha-cha-cha song as song of the day, we were one Cha short. So, as a token of appreciation of the sometimes exhausting and rough 2,400 meters of altitude where the LCO is located, the chosen song of the day is this instrumental song “Alturas”(Heights) by the chilean group Inti-Illimani, where Inti is the incain Sun god and Illimani from where the Sun rises.