SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory
07.05.2013 16:01 Age: 4 yrs

Announcement of Service Observing


The SAAO announces that a new program of service observing is now available. This program gives observers the opportunity to propose observations that do not fit into the one-week blocks of normal scheduled observing. Service observations will be carried out by scheduled observers when they have gaps in their own programs. The objective of the program is to increase the scientific output from the Sutherland telescopes for the mutual benefit of observers and PIs.

Note that this service does not replace the normal SAAO application and observing procedure. Programs that are suitable for the traditional schedule blocks must continue to be submitted through the standard quarterly proposal system. Service observing is designed for short or recurring observations. Service observing is carried out on a shared-risk, best-effort basis. Applications for service observing can be made at any time via the online application interface at http://tops.saao.ac.za/

Further information and instructions

Service observing is open on any of the 1.9, 1.0, 0.75, 0.5m and IRSF telescopes. Proposals will be assessed on their scientific and technical merits and will be either accepted or rejected depending on the guidelines outlined below. All accepted proposals will be entered into the observing queue with equal priority.

This new service is experimental and will be reviewed at the end of the year. Your suggestions and feedback will be essential in optimising the type of observing service the SAAO can give you.

Types of proposals that will be accepted

For example and not restricted to:

Small programs that do not require a full week via the "normal" application process.
Targets of opportunity.
Monitoring campaigns.

Types of proposals that will not be accepted

For example and not restricted to:

Programs that are more appropriate via the "normal" 1 week application process.
Proposals that do not meet a minimal scientific objective.

The online application process

The application form contains the usual sections for scientific and technical justification etc. and is pretty much self-explanatory. Each target has its own telescope and instrumentation configurations and observing instructions. Multiple targets can be added per proposal.

There are two sections of particular importance to potential PIs and observers:

Observer instructions
You will only get what you ask for. In this section you must explain in detail what you want the observer to do. It is in your (the PI) interest that this section be as simple and clear as possible.
The success of your proposal ultimately depends on how well you can communicate your requirements to the observer. Do not assume that the observer is familiar with your science requirements, the type of object being observed, or your “normal” observing and calibration procedures. A clear finding chart is a must. You must also list any auxiliary calibrations that you need, such as biases, twilight flats, photometric or spectroscopic standards, etc.

What's in it for the observer
At the end of the day your program is at the mercy of the observer. They are under no obligation to observe your targets. This section is your opportunity, as PI, to "offer" the observer something for their efforts. For example a co-authorship on papers that use any data taken or any other type of compensation, favours or whatever ... Use your imagination.

The queue scheduler

Each of the telescope control rooms will have a live graphical interface to the service observing database. All targets of all proposals will be listed in order of RA so that the observer can see
what is visible at any one time. The observer will be able to click on target rows in order to read abstracts, observer instructions and " what's in it for the observer".

The observer will only be able to attempt proposals which require instrumentation and telescope configurations that match the current configuration. Instrumentation changes will not occur unless by prior arrangement or under exceptional circumstances.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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