MAPS Sep. 2023B Night 4: An interview with the team

Dear readers, we have no science news to report. It has been windy and has stayed windy, with a fresh splash of humid to boot. So unfortunately, we do not have new science content to report. The experts have already shared their knowledge of some of the instrument’s background so tonight we’ll take the time to get to know our fellow crew mates better.

First we’ll speak with returning costar, Amali Vaz, working hard in the AO Operator’s seat. She’s a jack of all trades, being well versed in the mirror and its moods, ASMs of times gone past, and now the new CACAO wrangler.

Q: What’s your favorite button to push?

A: Hmm now that’s a good question. It’s gotta be the space bar. I read somewhere the joke ‘ I keep pressing the space bar but I’m still here on earth, and I still think about that?

Q: What’s your biggest area of improvement?

A: Jared says he can’t hear when I push buttons, so I guess hitting the keys harder.

Q: What’s your favorite book

A: Station 11. It does a weird mix of scifi and post-appocalypse with an emphasis on art.It’s a very elegantly structured book, as well as a good story.

Q: Stranded on a desert island with only one of your crafts, which would you choose?

A: Wood carving knives

Pictured: Amali, humoring me.

Next we speak to Robin, a core member of the the Canadian team, and DOCRIMES Agent, about some poignant and topical questions. Robin is a grad student from Toronto and keeps trying to wear shorts in this sub 70s weather.

Q: What are you excited about for the future of MAPS?

A: Good weather. Getting back on sky.

Q: What’s your favorite day of the crossword?

A: Thursday. It’s always got a little trick to it.

Q: How would you describe grad school?

A: No comment.

Q: What’s your favorite Trader Joe’s snack?

A: Chicago mix, but they don’t have it anymore. This run, easy choice, the leaf chips. They were good, and fun!

Q: How would you describe Jacob.

A:Tall. Complex. Shortily challenged.

Pictured, some of the many Trader Joes snack table options.

Now talking to Jacob, who is more than just his height. He’s been on the team for the last four or so years as a grad student at Toronto, initially working on the IR WFS (That we’re very excited to use).

Q: What are you excited about for the future of MAPS?

A: Can you just write ‘Aliens, Question Mark?’

Q: Would you rather take on an angry Frenchman or a disappointed Canadian?

A: Well I’ve already taken on an angry frenchmen. But if Quebec, no way. But a disappointment Canadian is a lot of emotional labor. Like if you disappoint your grandma, that’s hard.

Q: Favorite astronomy acronym?

A: Well it has to be the one I came up with. ESCAPE, which is when you combine DOCRIMES and SPRINTING.

Q: How would you describe Robin?

A: A cartoon character, like a sly rabbit, but not bugs bunny. Wait but maybe Bugs Bunny. It’s the sarcasm.

Enough said.

Next is Manny. He’s one of our fearless leaders and has been on the last half dozen or so of the last MAPS runs. He is gracious with his supply of fizzy water and doles out moka pot offerings when the night starts to get rough.

Q: What is the historical trendline of your fizzy water intake?

A: Usually bring two cases of 12, but this time I brought 3. I usually run out. For MAPS? I always bring fizzy water.

Q: What’s the hardest part of your job?

A: The hardest part is managing people and many projects.

CROWD COMMENT: But that’s the whole job.

A: So yes, the whole job.

Q: What’s your favorite telescope you’ve worked at?

A: I’ve been to two, no three. I would say that MMT is my favorite. It’s closer to home, and feels homey. We have fewer bares

Q: What animals have you seen on the mountain? Please rank from ‘would pet’ to ‘would run away from’?

A: I haven’t wanted to pet any of them. In ordering from most to least pet-able. Mouse. Rat. Squirrel. Quattie. Turkey. Ring tailed cat. Deer. Bobcat. Bear. Mountain lion. Rattle snake. Helomonster.

COMMENT: Manny goes on to show us many pictures of animals hes’s seen.

This picture depicts some the good care Manny takes to keep us caffeinated.

Next up, the MAPS PI Katie! She is an Astronomer at Steward Observatory and comes from a long legacy of AO work. Watch out for her revolutionary new pet program at the MMTO coming.

Q: What’s your favorite project you’ve PI’ed for and why is it MAPS?

A: It’s MAPs because it’s so many things and that’s what makes it fun. There are so many different parts to it.

Q: What’s the most overblown but technically true statement you can make about the progress of this project (for funding reasons)?

A: MAPS is attempting to do the most number of things that are all related to Exoplanets. It’s all of the different kinds of planets, spectral resolutions. But we’re not galaxies. We’re not doing wide field yet. We’re doing all kinds of exoplanets and all kinds of science with them, imaging, mid resolution spectroscopy, high resolution spectroscopy, without having to be the highest order AO.

COMMENT: We’re the little AO system that could!

Q: You can only take one… Lynx or Ginger? (to the telescope)

A: “Well Ginger is my cat and Lynx is Jared’s , but they have switched allegiances. Last time I went to the telescope actually, so we’ll see when we go back. But for now, I’d say Lynx, he’s very good at advising grad students, he has a lot of opinions about plots. He’s shy at first but would warm up to the control room and walk over some keyboards. Maybe that’ll be the right button we need. AND! He actually snuggles, so a good telescope buddy.”

Q: What ply of toilet paper do you prefer for your laptop stands? Does MMTO meet the quality specifications?

A: For my laptop stand I require uniform material of abundance quantities. MY first night here I searched the facilities and this was the materials that meet my needs.

The Laptop stand in question.

Grant, who has been working on MAPS since re-aluminizing the secondary in 2018 (5 years ago) is a key member of the ‘Field trip!’ duo. He helps keeps our alignment in check throughout the night and sometimes trouble shoots from a very high forklift.

Q: What’s been your biggest success on the project so far?

A: The wavefront sensor board. Designing, aligning, and keeping the whole system from falling apart. This was the first WFS board I’ve worked on. How do I keep it from falling off the telescope? Use bigger bolts, and way more than you think you need.

Q: If you had to rename MAPS, what would you rename it?

A: What does MAPS even mean? MMTAO… something? Well we’re basically a big wind measurement devices. MMT AneMometer. So MAM’

Q:”What’s your one must-bring for observing runs?”

A: French Press, that’s been keeping me alive. I’m a novice, so this is my first actual ground coffee that I’ve done. I haven’t always been a coffee person, it really started last year.

COMMENT: this is coincidentally coincides with Grant starting on Observing runs.

Q: Have you worked at any other telescopes? How would you rate their comfy chairs?

I don’t get to sit at any comfy chairs at LBT… sometimes I get to sit on the couches. But the chairs here really have them beat

COMMENT: We leave Grant to enjoy his comfy chair in peace.

A picture from Grant of the ASM re-aluminization from back in 2018.

Finally Jared Males, self proclaimed “I’m just the software guy”. He has been a notable member of many AO teams in the past, and has already made many a git push for MAPS.

Q: What’s your favorite part of an instrument project’s lifecycle, having commissioned and worked on a few at this point?

A: First light. The first time you take it to the telescope and you get starlight into it.

Q: When would you eat the watermelon?

A: I would want to see an airy ring.

Q: What’s your software hottest take?

A: Writing software is a real professional skill. TOo many people just learn enough to get a plot made or whatever. You don’t do that with say, lens design. We don’t teach software like a real technical skill. A lot of people live with real technical debt because they don’t understand their software.

Q: You can only take one… Lynx or Ginger? (to the telescope)

A: Lynx. …. I was in Chile for too long one time, and Ginger abandoned me. I have never been forgiven.

Q: If Olivier was your brother, would he be your older or younger brother?

A: Definitely older, even though I am chronologically older than I am. Professionally he is more experienced. He’s generally thought of things before I’ve thought of it.

Q: If you could script people like you would script cacao, what’s the first shared memory stream you would write?

A: That’s an interesting Question. I would would cause them to listen to the semaphores in my shared memory so that they (my grad students) would instantly do what I wanted.

COMMENT: This seemed like a pointed answer. The interviewer will be returning to work.

The two cats in question, Ginger and Lynx.

Thank you for tuning in to tonight blog! Hopefully the MAPS team will return tomorrow with more science-focused content.

Song of the day:

Inspired by my current most common activity of sitting, and slow musical chairs, I present Sitting.

MAPS Sep. 2023B Night 3: Wind, Wind, Wind, and much coding

As was stated in the Mary Poppins Movie “Winds in the east, mist coming in, /Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin. /Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, /But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

For us it has been out of the South with max of 60 mph. Which means that winter is coming and it is the only change we have in the difference between winter and summer and summer and winter.

“Winds in the south, cold coming in, /Like turbulence brewin’ and about to begin. /Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, /But I fear that AO will soon happen again.”

Was it a green flash? To began the night we started with beautiful clear skies and 30 mph winds

Wind is the worse when it comes to observing. Snow, Rain, Clouds I understand, but wind and with skies like this it seems a waste.

An advantage to having intermediate wind you have the ability to work on code and test it out when you are able to get back on sky. So there has been a lot of debugging going on and improvements the the overall MMTO AO experience when it comes to interfacing with the system.

The hints of a MMTAO GUI to control all the inner workings of this system. AO systems are like a mechanical watch the majority of people only see the face of it and never see all the gears and inner workings. We build items in the other direction we have all the inner workings first and then we add the fancy face.

Sleeping accommodations working at the MMTO while waiting for winds to die down.

Well that is all folks. A lot of coding, a lot of friendships being made. So all in all a great night and but looking for clear skies and no wind.

MAPS Sep. 2023B Night 2: Chilly wind

Tonight is our first *official* night on the telescope schedule, as last night was originally scheduled as an MMTO M&E night (maintenance and engineering) that the telescope ended up not needing more than we did, so they let us have an extra night to focus on our alignment. Thank you MMTO!

Craig and Dan came back up to help out at the start of the night with PISCES and the Top Box, respectively. Craig trained ASU grad student Krishna and me on PISCES operations including filling the dewar to keep it at a chilly 77 Kelvin. Fun fact: PISCES has been on 4 professional telescopes on several mountains around southern Arizona!

[Image description: Three photos showing two astronomers adjusting the instrument PISCES mounted to the telescope, and filling it with liquid nitrogen.]

Unfortunately we had to close the dome because of high winds around midnight.

Luckily the software crew were able to continue debugging by our old MagAO trick of closing the loop with tiny gains on WFS noise!

So I thought I would take some time tonight to lay out all the different systems we are controlling on this run, and the operating stations. Our T.O. Ben took for this great pic at sunset: He is standing outside the dome on the ground and the telescope is tipped over looking at horizon and we are all standing on the dome floor near the dome slit. You can see some of the primary mirror (the big glass behind us) and the back of the ASM and its structure.

[Image description: 9 astro-engineers stand in a metal building that is seen from the outside. The building has a large opening and behind that can be seen a round mirror. Metal beams are in front of the mirror holding out another smaller round mirror. The faint blue twilight sky is seen in back. One of the astro-engineers is jumping for joy, the others are smiling and/or looking wind-blown.]

First we have the big picture of our AO system on the telescope. The ASM is at the top, suspended far above the primary mirror. The Top Box (labelled W-unit here) is mounted directly beneath the primary mirror, and PISCES (labelled ARIES/MMTPol here, because any of our science cameras will go in this spot) is mounted just below the Top Box. The ASM power supply and the AO reconstructor computers are off telescope in the equipment room.

[Image description: A line drawing of the MMT telescope, pointed at zenith. It is a Cassegrain alt-az telescope with a fast primary and a small, agile mount. Colored shapes and lines show how the MAPS components fit onto the MMT telescope.]

Let’s follow a wavefront as it enters the MMT. The first surface it encounters is the primary mirror which is controlled by the telescope operator (this week we have the pleasure of working with Ben):

[Image description: Several monitors at the Telescope Operator’s station showing the status of the telescope and guis for controlling its various components, web cams for viewing dome safety, star finding tools, thermal control, weather prediction and status, and astronomical and geometrical status.]

After the primary mirror it goes to the secondary mirror. The ASM is currently operated by Jess and/or Amali who use the original engineering gui written by Elwood to control the coil currents, monitor the temperatures, and apply their best lab flat:

[Image description: Jess sits in front of two monitors full of guis to control the ASM, view its actuators’ health and safety, and log his observations.]

Next let’s look at the Top Box. Here is its layout: After our wavefront encounters our secondary mirror, it goes through the primary’s central hole to the dichroic just above PISCES, and the bluer portion is passed by the dichroic in reflection onto the optical breadboard in the Top Box. Then it travels (in this picture starting from the left) through the periscope (Oli’s elegant design to give us nodding without the heavy Bayside Stages used for this purpose in LBTI and MagAO). Along this beampath we have the option to insert a calibration laser source used for pupil illumination tests. Next comes the input triplet lens and ADC (atmospheric dispersion compensator). Along this beampath some of the light is sent to the acquisition (ACQ) camera (a Basler) with a selectable beamsplitter wheel. Next are the fast-steering mirror (FSM) that we use to modulate the beam (modulator) and K-mirror (which adjusts for the parallactic angle), then we have a flip mirror which gives the option of either the visible-wavelength wavefront sensor (WFS) or the infrared WFS. Just before this flip mirror is a fairly new addition, a pupil imaging lens (with Lyot stop placed just before the FSM) can be inserted here and a pellicle to a ZWO camera to image the pupil. On this run we are primarily focusing on the visible WFS, the acquistion camera, and the pupil imager.

[Image description: An optical diagram of the Top Box shows optical beams and elements that pass and control the light in the wavefront sensor subsystems.]

Here is a pupil image Grant took last night with the ZWO camera in pupil imaging mode as the dome was closing, to help Oli size the Lyot stop correctly: The bright ring is the sky, the circular shadow is the secondary, supported by the spiders in black, and the white rectangle in the center is the last bit of the primary mirror that can see the dawn sky as the dome was closing.

[Image description: Blurry white ring on a black background. Inside the white ring are four dark diagonal lines making a cross, and a white elongated rectangle with a dark hole in the center.]

The Top Box is currently operated as follows. During initial alignment at the start of the run, a lot of optics must be adjusted manually (often by Oli; this run it was by Grant and Dan). Next we have the movement of remotely-adjustable motors, from filter wheels and the periscope to the modulator (FSM) speed and amplitude. While we have a gui design in progress, these are currently being operated using the original engineering guis of each of the individual COTS components, here is their control station:

[Image description: Photo of a computer screen with several guis for components by Thor Labs and Basler among others.]

The WFS in the Top Box and the ASM above the telescope work together in a closed feedback loop to flatten the wavefront. This is controlled by the AO software CACAO and CHAI currently being written and operated by Andrew, Amali, Eden, Jared, Olivier, Jacob, and Robin. Here are Amali and Andrew closing the loop on WFS noise when the dome is closed due to high winds:

[Image description: Amali sits in front of two monitors and a laptop. The monitors are full of guis, TMUX screens, and displays of the AO system and CACAO. The laptop has Andrew on Zoom.]

Now consider the redder portion of our wavefront. That passed through the dichroic in transmission and went into our science camera PISCES. The PISCES optical path inside the dewar has two cameras (narrow-field 26” f/23 and wide-field 100” f/5), a filter wheel (JHKs and narrow bands 1.113um, H2 2.122um, Br-g 2.166um, FeII 1.64u, and 1.2um), and a Hawaii-1 chip.

[Image description: On the left is a line drawing of the optical diagram of PISCES. On the right is a photo of PISCES mounted to the telescope, which is labeled with PISCES’ components.]

PISCES is operated from our fifth and final computer station in the control room:

[Image description: Photo of the computer screen for running PISCES control software, which consists of a ds9 display of a seeing-limited star at K-band, a terminal, the control gui, and the PDF operations manual.]

It’s 5am (about an hour before dawn) and looking at the weather, we don’t think the wind will clear up in the next hour, so we’re going to bed early. The song of the day is Chilly Winds by the Kingston Trio:

[Media description: Folk group “The Kingston Trio” sings “Chilly Winds” on a stage in the early 60s.]

MAPS Sep. 2023B Night 1: Field trip!

Hello Extreme Wavefront friends, I’m back! Tonight was the start of our first MAPS run after the summer shutdown and it’s the usual packed control room, multi-tasking team, full moon, and beautiful mountaintop observatory!

[Image description: Gallery of photos showing the MMT Observatory at the top of Mount Hopkins, the telescope overlooking the valley, and the moon and clouds through the dome slit.]

MAPS is the MMT AO exoPlanet characterization System and is an ASM-based third-generation AO system with two pyramid wavefront sensors and a suite of science cameras. Our primary focus is on exoplanet science, although the broader diffraction-limited/enhanced-seeing MMT community will also benefit from the return of AO.

On this run we are starting with general system checkout and alignment, then focusing on AO software tasks such as offloading and pupil real-time alignment, as well as on-sky calibration of our interaction matrices.

It was a fun first night with Grant announcing “Field trip!” everytime we asked him and Dan to go up to the dome and adjust something in the Top Box.

By the end of the night we had nicely aligned PISCES and the pyramid pupils.

[Image description: Gallery of photos showing astro-engineers in the control room operating AO software or looking at the sunset; line drawing of telescope and camera optics; and photos of various guis showing starlight manipulated in various ways to show PSFs, pupil images, and pyramid pupils.]

For the blog rules, we’ll stick with the classic/basics: One post per night, one song of the day.

Tonight’s song of the day is a cover of the Cranberries’ Zombie by Bad Wolves:

[Media description: High-production-value music video of the group “Bad Wolves” performing the song “Zombie” as a cover and tribute to the original by the Cranberries.]