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!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Past to the Present

A joint Belles blog post! On November 18, 2015 we had an observing field trip to Mount Wilson Observatory - the place where Carnegie Astronomy began.

We owe so much to the astronomers, scientists, engineers and telescopes that came before us. Luckily  in the case of Carnegie, the original telescopes have been preserved and lovingly maintained by the Mount Wilson Institute on a mountain just above Pasadena.

Mount Wilson Observatory Carnegie Science 60-inch telescope
Four Las Campanas Belles were Mount Wilson Belles for the night. L-R: Erika Carlson, Rachael Beaton, Johanna Teske, Cynthia Hunt stand in front of the 60-inch reflector and the starry night sky.

Originally called the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory, the first permanent telescope on the mountain was the Hale Solar telescope in 1904. Named after Helen Snow who donated the coelostat, this horizontally projected telescope was the predecessor to the 60-foot solar tower and 150-foot solar tower.

Looking up the 150-foot solar telescope.
Photo by Paul Collison.
The Solar disc at the focus of the solar telescope, with the
largest sunspot group ever recorded, and marbles the size
of Jupiter and the Earth to scale.
Photo by Erika Carlson
We arrived at Mount Wilson in time to watch the sun set in a most unusual way: at the focus of the 150-foot solar telescope. Operator Steve Padilla kept the coelostat aimed at the sun as it dipped below the horizon of the Pacific ocean. When the sun started to turn orange, Padilla placed a to-scale image of the largest sunspot ever recorded in 1947, with a large marble the size of Jupiter and a small bb that is the size of the sun. At sunset, the atmospheric refraction and the reflection off the pacific ocean caused wonderfully deep red ripples, occasionally cut through by the silhouette of an airplane landing at LAX.

George Ellery Hale already had visions of the world's largest telescope, long before Mount Wilson Observatory was conceived, and even before the 40-inch refractor came online at Yerkes Observatory. With backing from his father, he commissioned the glass blank for the 60-inch mirror in 1894, and only accepted the directorship at Yerkes with the condition that they build a telescope with his mirror.  The University of Chicago failed to find funding for the telescope and mount for Hale's mirror, so he ended up donating the partially ground mirror to the recently formed Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1905 after moving to Pasadena. After years of tedious grinding and polishing the mirror's surface (so it was perfect within a few millionths of an inch!), constructing a totally new and very large mount and movement system for the mirror, surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and widening the existing road up the mountain, the 60-inch mirror had it's first light on December 13, 1908 and the first exposures were recorded soon after (see below). It remained the world's largest telescope until the Mt. Wilson 100-inch was completed in 1918.

Orion Nebula. First light on the 60-inch telescope - December 24, 1908.
Image courtesy Carnegie Observatories Plate Archive and Dan Kohne.

The 60-inch telescope is, according to Dr. Allan Sandage, "the grandaddy of them all, where many of the problems of telescope design and solutions were first understood." The size of the telescope made it possible to obtain useful spectra of fainter nebulae and stars than ever before, leading to the discovery that the Andromeda Nebula (as it was known at the time) had a spectrum resembling the Sun's. Hale deduced from this that it was also full of stars; the 60-inch also provided the first photographs of stars in other galaxies.

The Mt. Wilson 60-inch also played a crucial role in advancing the research of one of our favorite Belles of the past, Henrietta Swan Leavitt. She was the first to recognize the importance of Cepheid variable stars, giant stars that brighten and fade on a time scale that is directly related to their true brightness (longer the period of variation, the brighter the star). Ms. Leavitt's period-luminosity relation made Cepheids the first "standard candle" in astronomy, making it possible to determine distances to far-away galaxies. Dr. Harlow Shapley of Mt. Wilson Observatory used Ms. Leavitt's period-luminosity relation to measure the distances to hundred of globular clusters (that he thought were) in the Milky Way, finding that the most distant clusters are about 200,000 light years away! This led to the Great Debate (the Shapley-Curtis Debate) at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, in which Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis argued over the size and nature of the universe. The work of Edwin Hubble at the 100-inch on Mt. Wilson ultimately proved that the Milky Way is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. All of this was made possible by Ms. Leavitt, and by the facilities at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Carnegie Science VAR Hubble plate Observatories
Image of the glass side of Hubble's H335H photographic plate of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken at the 100-inch on the night of Oct. 5-6, 1923.  The letters "N" mark novae, and the first Cepheid variable discovered in Andromeda has its letter "N" crossed out and is relabeled by Hubble as "VAR!" for variable. This discovery helped establish that Andromeda was a separate galaxy from our own.
Image courtesy of the Carnegie Observatories

Thus it was our great privilege to get to participate in eyepiece observing at the 60-inch for several hours. We got great views of the Moon (craters look really different up close!), Uranus, Neptune and Triton, globular clusters, open clusters, and planetary nebulae. This was the opening night for Dr. Chris Burns, a Carnegie research associate, who has been training to be a 60-inch operator for months. He gave us an exciting but smooth tour of the night sky above Los Angeles, which we all forgot was only a few miles away. You can see what I mean here.

It's worth checking out the photo reels from two staff members who captured our trip from the whole afternoon and evening: the Observatories IT/IS Manager Paul Collison's photos are here, and Observatories Facilities Manager Scott Rubel's pictures are here.

Many thanks to the Mount Wilson Institute and the Carnegie Observatories for giving us the opportunity to step into the shoes of the giants of astronomy for the night!

Mount Wilson Observatory observing 60-inch Carnegie Science
Erika observing through the eyepiece of the 60-inch telescope.
Photo by Paul Collison

The 60-inch telescope during our evening session: eye on the sky since 1908.
Photo by Cynthia Hunt