Thursday, November 19, 2015

Giant Magellan Telescope Groundbreaking Ceremony

Amanda is GMTO's Communications Specialist. In her spare time she blogs at Perpetually Expat.

By Amanda Kocz

On November 11, 2015, the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Giant Magellan Telescope took place at Las Campanas Observatory. I co-planned the event, and these are my impressions of the day.  Opinions are my own. (Unless otherwise noted, images below are by Damien Jemison, copyright Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corporation. Videos are by me.)

We arrived at the GMT site at Las Campanas Observatory at around 4:45pm to a very windy afternoon.  It was already cold, and after a brief look at the view the gusts drove us along the red carpet into the nicely heated marquee where guests were mingling and chatting with old and new friends.
We arrive, nearly blown away...(I'm on the right)

Inside the tent the canvas flapped and the structure shook, adding to the sense of excitement. I stuck close to Dr. Miguel Roth, former Director of the Las Campanas Observatory. He and I had worked together for the past four months to bring this celebration of the start of construction of the GMT to fruition.

Soon after we arrived, VIPs began to be seated in the front rows, and before long everyone had taken their seats.


Minutes later the President of Chile, Ms Michelle Bachelet, was announced, and she was escorted along the aisle to the podium as the audience stood and applauded. The President and three distinguished guests, Dr. Taft Armandroff (Chair of the GMTO Board of Directors), Dr. Ennio Vivaldi (President of the University of Chile), Mr. Michael Hammer (US Ambassador to Chile), were seated on a stage in front of the flags of the project partners.

I took a seat in the back row and began to realize that this event that we’d been planning for months, and had gone over every detail of multiple times, was actually happening, live, right now, in front of me.

Then the introductory video started to play, and the music thundered over the sound of the weather outside.  We were beginning: in more ways than one.

Dr. Roth then opened proceedings, welcoming each dignitary and official, friend and Founder, astronomer and member of the project staff. Then, to the delight of the audience, he invited VIP guest Mario Kreutzberger AKA Don Francisco, TV mega star and host of the long-running Sabado Gigante show, to emcee.  Don Francisco graciously accepted, and over the increasing sound of the wind, announced the first speaker, Dr. Armandroff.

Miguel Roth opens proceedings
Don Francisco emcees
The distinguished guests each gave a passionate speech about the importance of the project to astronomy, and to Chile.

When, at the end, President Bachelet spoke she told the audience, “with this science, there are no limits to the possibilities that are open.”

President Bachelet

Then, the “ringing rock” was unveiled.  The Las Campanas site is named after a special feature of the rocks of the area. Translated as “the bells”, the Las Campanas rocks ring when struck.

President Bachelet struck the ceremonial rock with a gold hammer three times, and invited the three speakers, and several other VIP guests, to do the same.  And with that, the ceremony was complete.

President Bachelet with President of the University of Chile Ennio Vivaldi, Chair of the GMTO Board Taft Armandrof, and GMTO Representative in Chile Miguel Roth

I stood fixed to the spot as people all around me congratulated each other.  Glasses of champagne were distributed and Dr. Armandroff proposed a toast.

As people mingled before dinner, a spontaneous group of current and former GMTO Board members and project staff gathered around the rock for some informal rock-ringing and photos.

Then we made our way to the dining room for dinner. No photos were allowed here as the President of Chile was in attendance.  During the first course, local school children gave a dance performance, and afterwards the President went over and shook each of their hands. The children were so excited to be there, and this gesture by Ms. Bachelet was touching.

Dinner was a buffet set along the sides of the tent, and it soon became apparent that the weather outside was growing increasingly frigid.

During dessert, interim President of the GMT Project, Dr. Patrick McCarthy thanked several people for organizing the event, then invited the three ambassadors present to say some remarks (Ambassador of Australia (Tim Kane), the representative of the Ambassador of Brazil (Maurico Candeloro), and the Ambassador of Korea (Ji Eun Yu)). All spoke in an impressive mixture of Spanish and English.

When the meal was over, we said goodbye to our dinner companions and disbursed onto different buses to the next part of the event.

As we were gathering in the shelter of the tent before boarding, a few of us from the Project couldn’t help but notice the sunset. We stepped outside, braving the wind and cold to see it.  In the clear sky of the Observatory, the colors were unreal. We were speechless, emotional, and all of us realized just how lucky we were to be there.

(Image: Tango360)

We were driven in groups over to the Magellan telescopes, 4 miles away. As our group was the last to depart the tent, when we arrived at the telescopes it was dark and the sky was studded with stars.  The Magellanic Clouds were clearly visible, as was the band of the Milky Way.  It was so bitterly cold that we couldn’t get our eyes dark adapted before we had to head inside to warm up.

Inside the Lodge, Dr. John Mulchaey (current Director of the Carnegie Observatories) and his team had put on an impressive spread of tea, coffee and dessert.  There were several activities where we could learn more about the observatory and lots of staff on hand to offer explanations.

One cup of tea later, I went back outside to look through the small telescopes set up in the parking lot.  One was pointing at the globular cluster 47 Tuc, and the cluster filled the eyepiece with what looked like tiny grains of sparkling sand. In the other telescope, we could see the fuzzy blob of the Orion nebula.

Throughout the rest of the night small groups were taken on a tour of the Baade Magellan control room and dome, getting to see, up close, the 6.5 meter mirror.  The size and perfection of the mirror was staggering, and we were amazed to think that each GMT mirror would be nearly two meters wider than this.

Those in the first groups got the very special chance to look at the Saturn Nebula through an eyepiece on the Clay Magellan. Later on in the night, thanks to the increasing wind, the telescope operators had to close the dome.  

We were the last group so when we finished it was past midnight, and we had a 2.5 hour drive back to La Serena. As we looked out of the windows of the darkened bus, the view of the sky seemed somehow more special, and we fell asleep dreaming of the stars.

Read more about the GMT at and on social media (Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Winds from lensed star-forming galaxies

Oh, you thought Jane was off the mountain so she was done blogging? Incorrect, my friend! Jane strikes again below.

by Jane Rigby

This trip to Las Campanas is the last run in a six-year project to obtain high-quality rest-frame ultraviolet spectra for fifteen gravitationally lensed galaxies.  I’m using the MagE instrument on Magellan, which is a simple, powerful echellette spectrograph.

This graphic shows a reconstruction (at lower left) of the brightest galaxy whose image has been distorted by the gravity of a distant galaxy cluster. The small rectangle in the center shows the location of the background galaxy on the sky if the intervening galaxy cluster were not there. The rounded outlines show distinct, distorted images of the background galaxy resulting from lensing by the mass in the cluster. The image at lower left is a reconstruction of what the lensed galaxy would look like in the absence of the cluster, based on a model of the cluster's mass distribution derived from studying the distorted galaxy images. From NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI). Science credit: Sharon et al. (2012).
These spectra are ridiculously rich in spectral diagnostics that probe different aspects of the galaxies.

First, these spectra contain diagnostics of the massive stars in these galaxies.  Such massive stars that will burn hot, die young, explode as supernovae, and drive winds of gas that may escape for good, or may rain back down and trigger future star formation.  Since we can almost never obtain good spectra of the combined stellar output of galaxies as they appeared billions  of years ago (z~>1), we don’t actually know how important are Wolf-Rayet stars, or how much the stars are enriched in heavy elements such as carbon, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and iron.

Second, these spectra also contain diagnostics of the gas in these galaxies.  In distant galaxies, that gas is usually blueshifted toward us, which means the gas is flowing out of each galaxy.  That’s interpreted as winds, driven by the supernovae of the aforementioned massive stars.  This dataset connects the wind of a galaxy to its population of massive stars.  The thing I’m currently most excited about with this dataset is that we've gotten spectra of multiple physical regions within a few galaxies.  What we’ve seen so far in one galaxy (Bordoloi et al., submitted to MNRAS) is that the properties of the wind correlates with the properties of the closest star-forming region.  The wind appears to be “locally sourced”, arising close to the star-forming regions, rather than some uniform wind out at many kpc.  We now have spectra of multiple regions in additional galaxies to test this picture.

Third, these spectra contain nebular emission lines of magnesium and carbon (Mg II and [C III]+C III]).  These lines are quite bright in distant galaxies, and there’s been a flurry of recent papers trying to understand why.  I’ve written two myself.  These nebular lines must be powered by the hot stars, though the location of this emission within the galaxies is not well constrained.

Figure 4 from Bayliss, Rigby, & Sharon et al. (2014). Top: GMOS spectrum covering the rest-frame wavelength range Δλ = 1200–1600 Å. Spectral lines are indicated by type: black dashed lines are nebular emission lines, short solid red lines are stellar photospheric absorption features, medium length blue lines are ISM absorption lines, and long purple lines indicate transitions that could be either stellar photospheric or ISM (or more likely, a blend of the two). The error array is over plotted as the black dotted line, and the fit to the continuum level across the spectrum is plotted as a thin green line. The apparent emission feature that we observe at ~6290 Å is the result of a pernicious sky subtraction residual, and lines resulting from intervening absorption systems are indicated with downward facing arrows. Bottom: GMOS spectrum covering the rest-frame wavelength range Δλ = 1600–1950 Å. Lines are indicated according to the same scheme as the top panel. The N iii] 1750 emission line is only detected at ~2σ, but we indicate its location here because it is used later to constrain the relative nitrogen abundance.

None of this is science generally possible for typical galaxies with current telescopes.  Galaxies are just too faint, and our telescopes are just too small.  What makes this project possible is that our targets are among the brightest known galaxies that have been gravitationally lensed.  We’re using galaxy clusters as natural telescopes, to bend extra light from these galaxies toward us.

I’ve been working on this project with my pals & collaborators Keren Sharon, Matt Bayliss, Mike Gladders, and Rongmon Bordoloi, all of whom rock.

Monday, November 9, 2015

“Mama’s at the telescope, sweetie."

Here's Jane Rigby in her second guest post from LCO:

November 7, 2015

So my kid, who’s almost three, is figuring out that adults do something all day when they go to work.  He understand workplaces, as shown by the following genuine tweet:

But he’s hazy as to what we do at work.  When he asked my wife what I was doing at Magellan on this trip, she replied, “Looking at the stars.”  He paused, then fired back: “I wanna look at stars.”  So Andrea trekked him outside to look at the stars, and a few planes, and a planet, before his bedtime.  He’s been asking every evening.  Except it’s been cloudy at home, so kiddo’s gotten his first taste of being clouded out.

I’ve seen a few colleagues pressuring their kids too hard toward STEM.  I remember one professor demanding that her preschoolers stare into the Celestron telescope I was running at a public event.  They couldn’t see a thing because they were too young to vary the distance between their eye and the crappy departmental eyepiece. “Do you see it?  Do you see Saturn? With the rings?”  The professor was trying to share their passion with their kids, but in such a high-pressure way that I winced.

I’ve overcompensated, perhaps, and so far have only talked with kiddo about science as it comes up organically.  He likes books about dinosaurs and tigers, we lie on our tummies and stare at bugs, and we’re working on the difference between a goose and a crow.  When he asks, “Why dark?”  “Where half moon?”, we’ve tried to give simple but astronomically correct answers.  This has resulted in some surprising leaps of logic on his part, namely:  “Not dark anymore?  Earth not turning?”

Kiddo knows that some of my "work friends” have the job of “fixing rocket ships”, which is my translation into toddler language of, “Worked on several of the missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope.”  I don’t really know how much of that he understands, but I do see him pretend that jungle gyms are either rocket ships or firetrucks, which he then proceeds to pretend to fix.

But, this trip to Magellan has been the first time he’s grasped that my job has something to do with looking at the stars.  I think that’s really cool.

Jane, getting ready to look at the stars.

Proofs, and Proof

This post is by Dr. Jane Rigby, an Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who studies galaxies that are rapidly forming stars, and the black holes that lurk in the centers of galaxies. She is the Deputy Project Scientist for Operations of the new James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope to be launched in 2018. She is a seasoned Magellan observer (and overall observer, check out her CV!), and offers her perspective in a few posts here.

November 6, 2015

Johanna asked me to blog about my Magellan run, so howdy!  I'm Jane.  When I was a Carnegie and Spitzer Fellow, I used to observe at Magellan two to four times per year.  Now, I'm lucky to get down here once a year. In a separate post, I'll blog about the science I'm doing; it's way cool.  But first, I wanted to share some thoughts about my fist day here.

        My first 24 hr on the mountain featured some of the most boring and most profound parts of being an astronomer.  Boring first:  I owed The Astrophysical Journal corrected proofs of our new paper.  The recommended citation method had changed since the lead author wrote the bibliography long ago, and so I had to retrieve the citations for about fifty papers.   It was a stultifying 90 min of copy-and-paste.  Here I was, at a dark, gorgeous summit, stuck indoors fixing citations.  My first night was just for acclimation -- I wasn't observing until the next day -- and so after sticking it out until 4am, I called it quits and walked down to the dorms.
        The second night, after the observatory staff spent three frustrating hours in the afternoon and twilight playing Whack-a-mole with instrument and telescope problems, we finally got on sky and started integrating.  The first data looked gorgeous, exactly what we need to do the science.  So after starting an hour-long exposure, I headed outside.
        I love that falling-off-the-edge-of-the-Earth feeling of walking from the bright control room outside onto the telescope catwalk.  You can't see a thing, not even the white rails of the catwalk.  You just have to patiently stand and let your eyes adjust.  Gradually, the stars come out -- or rather, the stars were there all along, but now you can finally see them.  I spent a glorious hour scanning the Magellanic Clouds with my binoculars, saying hello to Orion, who stands on his head down here, swatting away at the Bull.

                                                         Taurid Meteor Shower, Brad Goldpaint, not from Magellan

        As I watched the Taurid meteors streak down to the horizon, I was thinking about the podcast I'd listened to at noon.  I'd planned to sleep until 2, but at noon, my body cried "Jet lag!" and refused more sleep.  So, I curled up in the dark with my earbuds.  Dan Savage was talking to a scared 20-year-old lesbian who’d called in — she’d just come out to her parents, who'd screamed at her for hours and then spent the next three months ignoring, shaming, or telling her she was hell-bound.   She had suicidal thoughts, she was in therapy, she was scared to leave her parents' house, and afraid that they were right that she was bound for hell.  Dan told her to leave, to find a couch, any couch, to surf, and then some cheap temporary accommodations.  "You're 20, your cerebral cortex isn't done forming yet, and so you think you'll feel like this forever.  But you won't.  Do you have any friends who are thirty?"  No, she replies.  "Well, get some.  They can tell you that you won't feel like this forever."  And, "Once you leave your parents' house, that shame will lift, and you'll feel better."
        As I stood on the catwalk, I was thinking about that young woman.  I was thinking about how, in the midst of grief, one can't imagining not grieving.
        For me, the best part of observing are those hour-long integrations in dark time.  The guide camera updates every ten seconds, reassuring me that we are exactly where we're supposed to be.  I have nothing to do for 50 minutes but walk out onto the catwalk, blink, and wait for my eyes to adjust until I can see the stars.
        Star-gazing from a dark site reassumes me that we live in a beautiful universe, that there is something majestic and precious about our lives.  That the carbon, oxygen, and iron in our bodies was forged in stars, and to stars shall return.  To me, the night sky is proof that we are part of something beautiful.  That it matters that those of us who are astronomers keep working at puzzling out some of how the universe works.  That what we do on this Earth matters, each of us, in the brief time we have.  Proof.
        I didn't care about the journal proofs, or the work I had waiting for me inside the dome.  I was thinking about that scared twenty-year old.  I wanted to tell her, I don't know if you're going to hell.  I don't even know whether there is a hell.  I do know there's a Universe, and you're part of it, and it's beautiful.  You have to stay strong, and stick around, and wait for the stars to come out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The work of women in astronomy (published 1899)

This is a speech given by Doctor (Mademoiselle) Dorothea Klumpke at the International Congress of Women on July 29, 1899. The speech/writing is beautiful, and I find reading historical documents like this really interesting. The speech highlights the work of many influential female astronomers/contributors to the field of astronomy, and doesn't even cover the 20th or 21st centuries!

Here is one of my favorite parts:

 And the closing is like a cheer for observers toiling away through the dark of the night:

The whole document from which this speech is drawn is also accessible on GoogleBooks and has material about other "women in professions," from literature to geology to biology to drama to art to government...what a great find! Thanks University of Illinois Library.