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

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Amateur Astronomy Congress

During the last week I attended to one of the events which brings together to different people who love Astronomy in Chile: the Amateur Astronomy International Congress (CIAA for short, in spanish) in its 18th version

All the attendees of the CIAA2015 in the Planetarium of Santiago. 
Picture courtesy of my friend Francisco Segura. 

Was held in Santiago between 14 to 17, October and was organized by the Telescoperos Ricardo González, a very enthusiastic group of amateur astronomers who build their own telescopes and also do differents activities related to the education/outreach of Astronomy. 

I collaborated to the organization in two of the previous versions of CIAA in La Serena (2009) and Vicuña (2010). This year was my first time giving a presentation, talking about general information about Supernovae and my work as observer for the Carnegie Supernova Project. 

I shared some important facts about my collaboration to the CSP astronomers.
Picture courtesy of my friend Danilo Soto.

Teachers, students, professional and amateur astronomers enjoyed didactic activities as solar observation with optical and radio telescopes, the construction and use of simple spectroscopes, learning of  some scientific experiments with simple elements and the mobile planetarium provided by the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory.

A group of high school students with their teacher (left) and Daniel Munizaga of CTIO's mobile planetarium (right).
In the center and crouching is Roberto "Caylo" Zepeda, one of the main persons in the realization of this CIAA.
Picture courtesy of my friend Francisco Segura.

Teacher Juan González and his students talked about their research 
in archaeological sites near to the town of Illapel (southern La Serena), 
where would exist a natural sculpture related to the equinoxes. 

The professional contributions to this congress came from the "Master lectures" by Dr. Patrice Bouchet (France), Dr. Gabriel Bengochea (Argentina) and Dr. Luis Paredes (Chile), giving a good opportunity to interacting and feedback.

Also, we visited to the National Astronomical Observatory of the University of Chile. A beautiful experience to know one of the oldest observatories installed in Chile and its different telescopes.

The historical Gustav Hayde refractor telescope.

Solar observations before the sunset.

Personally, was a very great experience be part of this CIAA, reuniting with old friends and to meet new ones. The helping hand from professional persons and the conversations with different people from other regions in Chile and Latin America. I keep very positive memories about this congress and I will be always thankful with the organising commitee and their warm and friendly reception.

Congratulations to the Telescoperos Ricardo González group and thank you so much for this great congress!!!

The next CIAA is hosted by the Astronomical Society of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (SAVAL, for short) and will be held in the first week on October, 2016 in the beautiful city-port of Valparaíso. This version celebrates the 60th anniversary of SAVAL and its contribution to the outreach of the Astronomy to the local community.

Best wishes for the organising commitee and I hope to be part in this celebration. :)