La Silla Observatory - Science Operation Department


Concerns about science operation of La Silla
From: L.Schmidtobreick and SciOp staff
O.Hainaut, HoSciOps,
J.Melnick, LSO Director

Due to the fact, that emergency situations arise more and more often, we believe it necessary to think anew about the staff plan.

The situation as we see it right now is:

 - four persons will leave before end of the year or have left already (George, Rene', Jon and Michael; Michael has been replaced by Ivo, Jon by Cedric, but this leaves a fellow and an OPA less, so still 4 people less) and no replacement is forseen -> 400 nights lost

 - by middle next year three more people will leave or have reduced duty (Malvina, Lisa, Linda), and no replacement is forseen -> another 160 nights lost

 - Vanessa is in sick/maternity leave until indefinite date...temporary replacement looked for, but not yet found

 - two more TIO positions will be cut by the end of the year

We believe that with all these losses a full operation of the telescopes is not possible anymore. For a normal operation we need at least three support/service astronomers (1 per telescope) plus one shift-leader/background astronomer who can also help out the other three in case of time-overlapping duties (e.g. calibration + introduction), three night TIOs (for telescope and instrument operation), three day TIOs (maintanance, startup, calibration) and one OpEng for day operation in backup.  100% coverage = 52 weeks * (Day + Night) * 3 Telescopes = 312 weeks weeks per person = [52 weeks - 6 holiday weeks) / 2 ] = 23 -> trained TIOs needed are 312 / 23 = 13.56 Hence, for full coverage, at least 14 TIOs and two OpEngs are needed, although emergencies arise quite often with this present number already.

If La Silla is to be kept open as proposed by 2006+ and desired by the community, ESO standard should be assured, which means that enough people have to be employed to operate the telescopes and instruments.  Otherwise, the working conditions and atmosphere on La Silla will become poor and it will be even more difficult to find people to fill the positions than it is now. Further consequences are of course a much higher downtime statistic as well as lower quality science.

As examples we give the following list of annoying things that have happened during the last months


- no TIO support during visitors' nights/days (2p2) Comments: Usually there is a TIO for the night and no day support (startup, day operation), very seldom the other way round.

- Startup of the telescope done by astronomer Comment: Astros have only basic knowledge of how to bring systems up.  If something goes wrong, they need someone who can help. Possibility that if everyone else is busy bringing up other telescopes, the telescope might not be ready to start the night.


- working shifts during day and night (e.g. service + calibration) Comment: While this happens on all telescopes, at the 2p2 this situation is standard during service mode operation. Astros and TIOs agree that the astro leaves the queue filled with relevant calibrations and the TiO executes it. But however, if something goes wrong, the astro will be held responsible since it is their job to check the calibrations.

- first night up already on service
too often:

- service nights or at least second part without TIO (2p2 mainly) Comment: The service observer knows how to run the telescope and fix the basic problems **depending on their experience**. The service observer may not immediately understand what the problem is when it occurs whereas a TIO knows exactly the symptoms and how to fix the problems when they occur.  i.e. astros are much less efficient without a TIO since:

     a) it probably takes them longer to understand what the problem is

     b) they might know 1 solution to fix the problem, but this might be the equivalent of hitting a nail with a sledgehammer.  There might be a shorter method they are not aware of, since they don't run the telescope full time

     c) if they don't know how to fix the problem, they have to wake up the TIO to come and help them troubleshoot and fix the problem anyway.

- doing service and introducing a new astronomer for the next days

- doing calibration for/with visitor in the afternoon (mainly NTT and 2p2)

- working more than the agreed days for La Silla in Vitacura, because of
  the goals and objectives and few time to really work on them when we
  are on La Silla.

- being shift-leader when doing night work
While not all of these things happened to everybody, and people are variedly sensitive to them, we all agree that these points are of course acceptable in emergency situations, but that the number of occurance of emergency situations is increasing, which is due to the fact that less and less people are working on La Silla.  We believe that the point is reached, where no more cuts of personnel is possible without a significant impact on the functioning of the telescopes.