Monday, May 30, 2016

An all-women observing run at Gemini

Hello Las Campanas Belles!  While I spend most of my time in Chile at LCO, this week I was in Chile observing on a telescope a couple hundred kilometers to the south: the Gemini South telescope at Cerro Pachon.  I blogged about it at Cosmic Diary/ Gemini Planet Imager, but I wanted to post a little about it here!

I had never been on an all-women observing run before, and neither had any of the 5 of us!  Myself, MagAO users Kate Follette, Kim Ward-Duong, and Jenny Patience, and student Sarah Blunt were at Gemini to look for planets using the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI).  It's winter in Chile and we had some cloudy weather as well as a bit of snow, but we squeezed in observations whenever we could.  Check out the link above to read more about it!

And here is a picture of the women GPIES observers:

Here is the Gemini dome with some beautiful but not-good-for-observing clouds:

And they have some of the same animals at Gemini, like this cute little zorro near the dorms!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chile-US Astronomy Education Outreach Summit visits Las Campanas Observatory

Amanda Kocz is Communications Officer for the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization. Opinions in this post are her own.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take part in the second Chile-US Astronomy Education Outreach Summit, held in La Serena, Chile.

Outreach summit participants at Magellan.

The purpose of the summit was to bring together fifty or so astronomy outreach professionals, teachers and administrators to work on revising the draft of the Roadmap to the Stars (not available online yet - still a draft). This document, written at the first Summit in 2015, outlines the current state and the future of astronomy outreach in Chile. The summit was also a great opportunity to network, to share ideas and to make connections with our counterparts.

I was there representing the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, which meant I had the good fortune to spend the week with my colleague, Dr. Miguel Roth, former Director of Las Campanas Observatory (LCO), and current Chile Representative for the GMT.

The first day of the summit was a fieldtrip to LCO. On the bus I got to know Pablo Álvarez, who is working on a project called Astroturismo Chile, which is assessing the quality and competitiveness of astrotourism in Chile. 

As we reached the turn-off from the Pan American Highway, I immediately recognized the landscape in the distance. Looking from left to right we could see the du Pont, the Magellans, and the GMT site. The driver stopped the bus, and we all got off to check it out. Mark Philips, current LCO Director, explained what we were seeing.

Mark Phillips (L) and Pablo Álvarez (R) look towards Las Campanas.
Then we began the somewhat tedious, bumpy and dusty journey to the summit. As we got closer, the two instrument towers on the GMT summit became more visible, and soon we reached the turn off to the site. We couldn’t pay it a visit due to construction work, but I was excited to be there again. (Last time I was there, it was the GMT Groundbreaking Ceremony in November 2015.)
The instrument towers visible on the GMT site.
We continued to the far end of LCO to the du Pont Telescope. Commissioned in the mid-1970s, it was used for wide-field photography on photographic plates. It is now being used for a new project, APOGEE, a fiber-fed spectrograph designed to do a southern sky survey of the Milky Way.
Mark Phillips tells the group about the du Pont Telescope.
From our vantage point at du Pont we could see all of LCO’s telescopes. In the middle distance was the Swope, named after Henrietta Swope, a famous astronomer who was also a philanthropist and gave $250,000 to Carnegie to build the telescope.
We could also see three site testing telescopes that are used to measure the site’s seeing. Also in the middle was the Ogle, a 1.3m telescope operated by the University of Warsaw for gravitational lensing observations.
Las Campanas Observatory.
Magellans to the left, Swope and Ogle in the middle, and the GMT site far right.
All of this information was coming at us via a bilingual comedy double act between Mark and Miguel. Mark was doing the English, and Miguel was doing the Spanish, except when they forgot which was their native language and switched. The explanations became a competition as each of them relayed ever more outlandish stories.
Mark Phillips and Miguel Roth keep the crowd entertained.
Soon it was lunchtime, and we sat on long benches in the dining room getting to know our colleagues. I chatted with Valentina Rodríguez and Laura Ventura from ESO, feeling quite inadequate at my lack of Spanish.
After lunch we were taken to see the Magellans, and we headed up the stairs into the control room of the Baade telescope. Mark and Miguel continued their comedy routine before we were taken inside the dome to stand face to face with the 6.5 meter mirror.
Miguel Roth tells another elaborate story inside the Baade control room.
The explanations and descriptions of the telescope and its mirror came thick and fast from Miguel and Mark but everyone seemed more excited about getting their photo taken with the mirror. We were also lucky enough to have time to visit the coating chamber in between the two telescopes. Each year one of the mirrors is stripped and realuminized in this room (video here). 
Miguel Roth and me with the Baade mirror.
Suitably telescoped-out we rejoined our bus and headed a little way down the hill for a group shot with the GMT site in the background. Then we hit the road for the two hour drive back to La Serena.
Group photo - GMT site in the background.
This outing was the first of many highlights of the Summit. I won’t forget the experience of revising the Roadmap document, huddled around a translator who was doing an amazing job of keeping us non-Spanish-speakers in the loop. I was appreciative of the opportunity to meet and get to know the many enthusiastic astronomy outreach professionals who attended (especially Suzanne Jacoby from LSST and Sandi Preston from McDonald Observatory).

What I learned was that there are more great ideas for engaging the public with astronomy than I could have imagined, and that an enormous amount of work is being done in Chile already. The country hosts a large fraction of the world's astronomical light gathering capability, and the hope is that one day the world will come to know Chile for its astronomy.

I’m very grateful to the Summit organizers for such a productive and well-run event, and for inviting me to attend.

Read more about the Summit on its Facebook page!
Find out more about what’s going on at GMTO from our latest newsletter published in March.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

K2+PFS, a Beautiful Exoplanet Characterizing Partnership

This is post is mostly by Liang, with a little bit by Johanna at the end.

Johanna said to include a picture of me "doing science". For most astronomers,
most of the time, this is what "doing science" looks like!
My name is Liang Yu and I'm a second-year graduate student at MIT. I started working on the K2 mission about five months ago. Since it began in 2013, the mission has yielded about 300 transiting exoplanet candidates. I'd like to share with you some of these exciting results and a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of how we extract signals from planet candidates from large quantities of K2 data. Thank you Johanna for starting this wonderful blog!

K2 is the "successor" of NASA's highly successful Kepler mission, which has discovered thousands of transiting exoplanet candidates. By staring at stars in one patch of sky and watching for them to change brightness, Kepler could detect when a planet passed in front of a star and blocked out a tiny fraction of its light. (If you want to try detecting Kepler planets yourself, try out this simulation or this Citizen Science project!) By May 2013, two of the spacecraft's four reaction wheels had failed, leaving Kepler unable to point precisely at its original field (in the Cygnus constellation). Luckily, the spacecraft is still able to balance itself against solar radiation pressure and continue taking data, and the mission has since been renamed "K2". K2 is different in that it does not point at one patch of sky continuously, but observes different fields of stars for 80 days each. This means it has a shorter baseline for catching stellar brightness changes due to planets (so, it cannot detect longer period planets), but also that we now get to search for transiting planets all across the sky. Another different and cool thing about K2 is that it is almost totally community-driven -- scientists propose for what targets they want observed in each field, and the data are public immediately, so anyone with a computer can analyze them. 

K2 delivers images of each field from which we can produce a time series of each star's brightness level (called a light curve). But astronomers quickly discovered that the reduced pointing precision of K2 introduced significant levels of systematic noise into the light curves. Without any special processing, most transit signals would be hidden by the noise.
This is what a raw image of a star looks like, straight from K2. The star can sometimes look elongated due to the spacecraft's motion.
There is a fix for this problem, however. Systematic fluctuations in the light curves are strongly correlated with the camera's motion. The spacecraft slowly drifts and is straightened by thruster fires every 6 hours, leading to sudden jumps in the light curves. After several rounds of cleaning that corrects for systematic noise as a function of the spacecraft's motion, and removing the low-frequency variability caused by stellar activity, we get much higher quality data that can reveal transits shallower (smaller) than the level of systematic noise. That translates to smaller planets! 

Top: The uncorrected light curve from K2. Bottom: The same light curve after removing noise correlated to
the spacecraft motion and stellar activity. Now we can clearly see the little dips that may correspond
to a planet passing in front of the star at regular intervals.

After running this procedure on tens of thousands of target stars in each K2 field (which usually takes at least a few hours), we then run a procedure called Box-Least-Squares on all the cleaned light curves to find the ones with periodic dips that look like exoplanets eclipsing their host stars. Folding each light curve so that the dips overlap, we get these (sometimes) beautiful plots of exoplanet transits. The shapes and sizes of these dips can reveal a wealth of information about the planets causing the transits.

A cleaned and folded light curve, fitted with a theoretical model of a transit (red curve).
First of all, the depth of the transit tells us the size of the planet candidate relative to its host star. The deeper the transit, the larger the planet compared to the star. Combining this information with the absolute size of the star, which we can estimate from images taken at different wavelengths, we can derive the absolute radius of the planet. Previous work has uncovered an empirical relation between planetary radius and mass, which works well at least for small planets. Thus we can plug our estimate of the planets' radius into this relation to get a first guess for their masses. However, to get a more reliable estimate, we must turn to ground-based follow-up observations.

That's where the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS) at Magellan II comes in! I've written about PFS before, but not much about the science it actually accomplishes. PFS detects planets via the "Doppler wobble" or radial velocity technique -- we observe stars and spread out their light through a grating, like sunlight through a prism, into the different components or wavelengths of the light. As light escapes a star's interior through it's atmosphere, the atmosphere absorbs a bit of the light in specific patterns, depending on what the atmosphere is made of. This is observable in lines "missing" from the star's spectrum. In addition to the composition of the atmosphere, the motion of the star (moving towards or away from us) also controls the positioning of the absorption lines.

In a simplistic picture, we can think of stars as stable, non-moving objects. In reality, they have their own orbits and motions around the Galaxy, are sometimes interacting with each other, and our Sun is moving relative to them. But if we just observe one star and compare it to itself at some reference point, the motion should be pretty small. And yet, we see evidence of stars moving more than expected in the shifting positions of the absorption lines in their spectra. It appears that they are moving towards and away from us in a small but measurable and very periodic way. What could be causing this motion?


This is a video from ESO (L. Calçada), showing how a star's motion towards and away from us is 1) reflected in the lines of its spectrum and 2) caused by a planet orbiting the star and causing the motion. We are a little competitive with ESO (their precision radial velocity spectrograph is called HARPS), but they make a mean movie so I couldn't help myself.

While in most cases stars are much(x3) more massive than planets, they still obey the laws of gravity, so that the star effectively feels a tiny gravitational pull from the planet and the planet effectively feels a much larger gravitational pull from the star. From afar, it seems like the planet is just orbiting the star, but in reality (as is shown in an exaggerated way in the video), the star and planet are both orbiting a common center of mass. With PFS, we distinguish tiny shifts in the star's absorption lines, caused by tiny tugs from planets, by comparing how these lines move relative to an actually-stable reference spectrum, typically of iodine. We superimpose the iodine spectrum on top of the star's lines, and thus have "zero point" around which we can measure how the star's lines change. 

Carnegie DTM's Paul Butler helped pioneer this iodine-cell radial velocity (RV) technique to detect some of the first exoplanets ever. In fact, the 20th anniversary of the first exoplanet detected this way around a solar-like star, 51 Peg b, was this year. For a long time, RV was the most productive way to detect exoplanets; it really wasn't until Kepler was launched that the RV planet detection rate was surpassed. 

The beautiful thing is, both RV and transit techniques are really needed to learn about planets, since the first only measures a mass and the second only measures a radius. If we want to understand what planets are made of -- and we very much do! -- we need both techniques. This has led to a growing partnership between Kepler and K2 planet-finders and ground-based RV observers, one of which is now K2+PFS. We also partner with the HAT-South transiting planet survey, and have already helped confirm and better characterize ~10 transiting exoplanets (that is in addition to the ~10 RV-only planets PFS has detected or help confirm). One of my favorite transiting planet follow-ups so far is WASP-97, an unusual system because it hosts a small, probably-rocky planet inside the orbit of a giant, hot Jupiter planet; the smaller planet goes around the star every ~19 hours.  PFS measured or helped confirm the masses and orbits of all of the planets in this system. 

Mind blown, right?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Epic Seeing

As an astronomer, I had to learn to "let it go" when it comes to the weather. It is completely out of my control, and sometimes I am lucky, and sometimes I am not. I had a discussion at dinner a few nights ago with the observer on the other telescope (Baade), Dan Milisavljevic, about the risks and rewards of ground-based observing. He commented on how curious it must be to non-observers that we spend so much time and money and energy on an activity with such inherent, known risk. Las Campanas is one of the best sites to observe in the world, but there are still nights lost to weather -- last August I lost two nights, and friends of mine have lost more. But my comment was, that's part of what makes observing exciting, especially classical observing (where the observer themselves goes to the telescope, versus queue observing, when someone else does your observations for you). There is an unpredictable aspect to it, and you have to be ready to think on your feet to adapt to whatever the weather brings. When the weather is bad, it is really disappointing, and certainly projects and science suffers. But when the weather is good, it is like magic. 

As I post this, I'm in the middle of a 13-night PFS (Planet Finding Spectrograph) run with Steven Shectman. Observing at Magellan with Steve is a special treat, because he designed and built the telescopes (with the help of many others). Steve knows all the ins and outs of the structure, the site, the mirrors, the telescope computers and software, the staff, and most of the instruments. He was and is an invaluable resource to Las Campanas, and really to our community overall. It is a privilege to know and work with him. It's also really fun. 

So, it is like a sundae with a cherry on top when I get to observe with Steve and we have good weather. And this run, so far, we've had the longest stretch of good weather I have ever experienced at LCO. Minus a few clouds last night that moved in and out quickly, we have had clear, calm skies with remarkably good seeing (very little turbulence in the atmosphere, so the starlight is better concentrated into our narrow slit). I've written about good seeing before, but that was only over two nights. We're on our sixth night of near-pristine or pristine seeing; for calibration, 0.5'' seeing is considering very good, and rare at most other observatories. A few nights ago (New Year's Eve, actually), I took this screen shot at the end of the night...and added some embellishment: 

This shows the seeing as a function of time, increasing to the right. The telescope we're using is in red. At the end of the night, we had several bouts of < 0.5'' seeing. Epic! (Also note that we, in red, won the seeing battle with Baade that night. I think so far we are winning 4 nights to 1; we'll see how tonight shakes out.)

But tonight, tonight is really magic. Take a look at the same plot from tonight so far:

See how much we are below the 0.5'' line?! I swear I saw 0.39'' on the seeing monitor, and we've had consistently 0.4-0.45'' seeing for over an hour. This means that we are more easily able to observe very faint stars, which will make our colleagues working on HAT-South and K2 transiting planet follow-up very happy. More about that soon.

Update at the end of the night...


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Backward and Forward

I'm back at Magellan, on a 13-night run with the Planet Finder Spectrograph. I'll write more about our observations in near-future posts, but feel compelled to reflect on what has been an eventful year in many respects. Stay with me, this is a long post but I think it's important. Thanks much to Belle blogger and Hubble Fellow Jackie Faherty for editing help!

This past year has been challenging for women in science, and especially women in astronomy. Remember the postdoc who was told to to put up with her advisor looking down her shirt? Remember the Rosetta Mission Project Scientist who, for a internationally televised press conference, wore a shirt covered in pinup-style drawings of scantily clad women? Remember how a Nobel laureate (who, like many others, is a white man) said, at the World Conference of Science Journalists, "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry"? Remember the prominent Caltech astrophysicist who said, in a nationally-broadcast NPR interview, "Many scientists are I think, secretly, are what I call ‘boys with toys'"(and the overwhelming response from female scientists on Twitter)? Remember the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS is one of the premiere and most distinguished scientific societies in the US, with exclusive membership), that claimed that gender bias in tenure-track academic job hiring is a myth? I know you remember the "revelation" (which really wasn't, to many of us) that one of the most well-known astronomers, both within the field and by the public, has been sexually harassing women for years. Two institutions that he worked at over decades did little to reprimand him.  The institution that did act, did so late, and did so with the seeming intention of covering it up. Unsurprisingly, NPR's Science Friday highlighted sexism in science, and the attention it has received this year, as one of it's top stories of 2015.

Looking at that list makes my heart sink, and it makes me angry. I know so many women in science who have had negative experiences while at work or at a work-related event (conference, field work, work party, etc.) that almost certainly would not have happened if they were men. There are women who changed careers because they felt uncomfortable or threatened in their workplace or with their colleagues. Women are not only undervalued, under-appreciated, disadvantaged in the job market, spoken poorly of, laughed at...they are being sexually harassed. Just to be clear, the US equal employment opportunity commission defines "sexual harassment" as, "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

Below are the figure highlights from the PLOS ONE paper, "Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault" by Clancy et al., published in 2014. I encourage you to read the whole paper, and share it with your colleagues and supervisors. 

This is unacceptable, right? Who am I to encourage a young female student to pursue a STEM career if this is the community she is entering?

There is some hope. People are talking about these events, both in and outside of astronomy and other sciences. There are heated discussions within the science community about how to change the system of sexual harassment reporting so it is not so dysfunctional and women are not left to suffer. At the November Division of Planetary Sciences meeting, and at the December Extreme Solar Systems meeting, CSWA Chair Dr. Christina Richey's talks about their survey of sexual harassment in astronomy spurred break-out meetings where many male scientists met to work out how to better support and act to help women. Belles blogger Katey Alatalo and Heather Flewelling, a member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, started the ground-breaking Astronomy Allies program, a group of volunteers who act to form a “safe-zone” at meetings of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). "An Astronomy Ally can act as a buffer, bystander, or advocate. As a meeting participant, you can contact an Ally if you need help. Allies can provide confidential advice, support, information, and resources. They can serve as a liaison between you and the AAS administration." They also offer walks back from the well-known AAS party, which is held on one of the last nights of the conference at another venue and often serves alcohol. AAS President Meg Urry highlights other ways to help end sexual harassment in astronomy in Scientific American. If nothing else, at least in 2016 I think the treatment of women* in science will be on the minds of at least some scientists and decision-makers.

And yet...I could not help but cringe slightly when I read Dr. Urry's article. All that she writes is important and should be read. But I think she misses an opportunity, in a venue that many astronomers and scientists read and respect, to address another problem that has plagued the field for many years. I used * above because I think the treatment of white women in science will be on the minds of decision-makers in 2016. Yes, sexual harassment and sexual assault and discrimination based on gender all affect both white and non-white women. But their experiences are not the same, because of racism.  Dr. Sarah Ballard, one of the complainants in the formal case brought against Geoff Marcy and a white woman, made sure this point was not missed, even in the turmoil immediately after the case was made public. In fact, non-white women experience sexual harassment at higher rates than white women. And moreover, as Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein points out, "where is the Title VI office for redressing racist violations? There are none. Universities aren’t required to have one. There is no consistent mechanism for redressing racism on campus, whether it be in the classroom or the research environment. [...] In context, it’s hard to be thankful to people responding to sexual harassment with such verve when they don’t respond to racism with the same passion."

As I hope you realize, 2015 was an even more challenging year for non-white, specifically Black, women in science. I strongly encourage you to read (or listen) about their experiences from them. I am white, so I have not had the same experiences, and I am humbled by the way Black women scientists have handled and responded to what has happened this year. They deal with (more) sexual harassment and gender discrimination in science than white women. They have the highest court in the land questioning their ability to participate in science. But more importantly they literally have threats to their lives, and the lives of their family and friends...not for being female scientists, but for being Black.

Do non-white women scientists have reason to be hopeful in 2016? I honestly do not know...maybe. When I see programs like Dr. Aomawa Shields' Rising Stargirls, an interactive astronomy workshop for middle school girls "from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences (American Indian or Alaska Native, African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander)" that uses "writing, theater, and games to process what we learn and discover," I am hopeful. When I see white women recognizing their privilege and speaking out in solidarity against racism, I am hopeful. When I see the significant number of astronomers and physicists who responded strongly and quickly to SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts' racist comments regarding affirmative action, I am hopeful. But my hope comes from a place of relative privilege, safety, and perhaps naive optimism. Time will ultimately tell if my hope is foolish, but so will my actions and those of my colleagues. For my part, one of my 2016 New Year's resolutions is to educate myself more about intersectional feminism, starting with a few good books.

This year has been great for Las Campanas Belles -- I have really enjoyed hearing about all of our bloggers' science and observations and instruments and opinions and adventures. In 2016, I'd love to see (and will work towards) more women of color blogging here, too.

                                           Las Campanas Observatory, 30 December 2015, before sunset 

Friday, December 18, 2015

MagAO: 2015B

Hello Belles Fans!

Katie Morzinski (Arizona) and Kate Rubin (Harvard CfA) at Magellan, 13 Dec. 2015. Photo by Kate Follette (Stanford).

My name is Katie Morzinski and I'm an astronomer at Steward Observatory (University of Arizona) and the instrument scientist for the Magellan Adaptive Optics ("MagAO") system. MagAO power-user Alycia Weinberger just posted about her time with us the other day. For more on our work visit the MagAO blog or our results page.

I'm in the home stretch of a 5-week run at LCO. Thanks Johanna for making this great blog! I hoped to post last semester (May/June 2015A) when we were here for 6.5 weeks of long winter nights, but the run was so busy/exhausting that I never got a chance. Well now I do, because this 2015B run has gone much better! Maybe because of all the friends up here!  ...And also the short summer nights/long summer days that mean I get enough sleep to even do extra things like blog!

2 of our colleagues came down to help run MagAO, they are Amali Vaz of Steward Observatory and Kim Ward-Duong of Arizona State University. Then our women observers on MagAO have been myself, Kate Follette of Stanford (former MagAO grad student), and Alycia of Carnegie DTM.  Here are some pictures of the women of LCO who have helped make the 2015B MagAO run enjoyable:

Amali Vaz (Arizona) came to help us run AO and to win the MagAO blog prize.

Kate R., myself, and Kim Ward-Duong (ASU) at the Magellan/Clay for MagAO, 10 Dec. 2015. Photo by Jared Males (Arizona).

Here are Kate Follette running VisAO and Alycia preparing to run Clio, both on MagAO on Clay.
And here is Kate Rubin running MagE while Telescope Operator Angelica Leon runs the Baade

MagAO uses an adaptive secondary mirror to flatten the wavefront to produce diffraction-limited images.  Our adaptive optics (AO) also uses a pyramid wavefront sensor -- it's pretty cool! Since it's our own special secondary mirror, our observing runs are in blocks, to minimize the number of nights lost in switching secondaries (it takes us just over 1 day to mount our entire instrument, which means two nights of astronomy are "lost", 1 coming and 1 going). So I stay up here at LCO for about a month per semester, along with MagAO team member/VisAO PI Jared Males. The MagAO PI, Laird Close, comes at the beginning to help us set up, and the end to help us take it down. In between, we support the observers and keep the instrument running -- sometimes it's as simple as pushing a few buttons to start the AO, sometimes it's as hard as cracking open an electronics rack and measuring the current flow across some serial ports to determine which motor has died.  Here's what it looks like bringing the secondary mirror up to the telescopes from the clean room:

MagAO's adaptive secondary mirror is awaiting removal from the flatbed truck, while the little SUV is used to calibrate the lift (thanks to LCO staff Juan Gallardo and Felix Quiroz).  The adaptive secondary mirror is 85 cm in diameter and only 1.6mm thin, with a set of control electronics and communications fibers to transmit 585 actuator commands at 1000 Hz.  It spends its time wrapped in shrink wrap in the clean room when the MagAO team is home in Arizona.

The picture at the top of this post is of myself and a good friend of mine from grad school, Kate Rubin, who was up here observing on Baade for a few nights -- a wonderful coincidence, she taught me about using the optical spectrograph MagE.  With some festive cheer and delicious snacks brought by our friends, I've enjoyed the last 4.5 weeks and look forward to just a few more nights before I head home to Arizona!
Kate and Alycia brought some festive cheer for various winter holidays.

All in all, it's been a great run for MagAO at LCO in 2015B!

Two Kates: Rubin and Follette, with Magellan Baade in the background.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Crosspost from MagAO

Labor rights in Chile come up quite a bit at the Observatory. At Magellan, we usually have three telescope operators between the two telescopes so that they can switch off and thereby not work too more than 11.25 hours continuously. This week, Jorge is stuck with us all night though because Mauricio is on vacation. Luckily it's summer here, and the nights are short. We have been working about 10 hr this week, from the time we open the dome to the time we close it (well, when I say "we open" I really mean "Jorge opens").   Labor laws also make it hard (impossible?) to hire employees who work at night sometimes and during the day at other times, such as, for example, a person who could do AO operation during AO runs and other technical jobs at other times.

Chilean labor rights don't extend to University of Arizona employees (i.e., Jared and Katie), alas for them. They get to be those night AO operators here (though perhaps they work at night back in AZ too).  Again, it's not so bad this time of year, and they seem pretty cheerful despite the "Day 30" title of this post. Last June was a different story. To quote Katie, "If you're doing 80+ hr of real work, you will absolutely burn out in 6.5 weeks. See 2015A."

Labor relations have been on my mind today because the Chilean airport workers are going on strike tomorrow and Friday, just in time for me to try to get home. Laird Close arrived today and said the airport was a zoo.  Lan Chile has cancelled its flights from La Serena to Santiago (and vice versa) tomorrow. Luckily, I asked the helpful staff at Las Campanas to book me a bus ticket. So even though I now have to leave the mountain at 8 AM after finishing observing at 6 AM, I should get to Santiago in time for my flight to Estados Unidos. And I'm looking forward to sleeping in my Salon Cama seat (fully reclining, like business class) for a blissful 6 hr.

Even more luckily, the air traffic controllers are not striking, so the international flight seems likely to go (though the fact that the American Airlines representative I talked to today claimed there were no disruptions at all just led me to think AA is clueless more than it led me to think the situation is fine).

Meanwhile, today's been a good day.  It was sunny, and this lizard and I both enjoyed that:

I also saw two guanacos, thanks to Katie who alerted me to their presence down the hill north of Magellan. It turns out they make a really interesting sound calling to each other. Listen carefully to hear one calling to the other (and look carefully to see one running).

This guanaco is also running -- running MagAO that is!

And of course, sunny means clear!

The Devil is still the NE winds, which briefly caused me to have to abandon one of my northern targets, but only briefly.  Ah, LCO, here between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Wait, I hear a song coming on.  Last night, Jared used "The Devil went down to Georgia," which brings me back to Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Jazz, and one of my favorite artists to listen to while observing, relaxing, stretching after a workout, flying, and probably (we'll find out tomorrow) taking a 6 hr bus ride. Enjoy!