La Silla Observatory



Minute of the SciOp meeting held on 2003-08-13:
         Concerns about science operation of La Silla


Prepared Olivier Hainaut 2003-08-13
SciOp and JMelnick

Revision History

2003-08-13 first draft, ohainaut
2003-08-20 include review comments, ohainaut



On 2003-08-13, SciOp meeting was held, with very broad participation from SciOp Department members (at LS, SC and La Serena), with Jorge Melnick, to discuss various concerns and issues.

A document had been prepared ("Concerns about science operation of La Silla" [1]) by L.Schmidtobreick with input from many astronomers and some TIOs and OpEng to summarize these concerns. It was used as a basis for discussion during the meeting.

The present document summarises the discussion, and lists the various actions that are taken to solve the issues presented.


Text in italic correspond to citations from another document. By default, they are from [1]. Where some text has been edited out, it is replaced by [...]. Text in red indicate an important change of procedure or action starting immediately. A star * indicate a sentence that has been modified or added during the review process.


SciOp: La Silla Science Operation Department
OpA: Operation Astronomers, 80/20%
OpEng: Operation Engineers



2.1- SciOp staffing plan

The situation as we see it right now is:
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.  [...]

The OpA position of C.Foellmi was never a real position: it had been assembled from bits and pieces of contract ends that were floating around. So, that man power was an "extra" to compensate for nights that had been lost before.

The Staffing Plan, as described in [2], considers that in until the end of 2003 (i.e. nominal end of WFI operation), SciOp would have:
and after the end of WFI operation:

WFI Era:
The goal of 1 astro per telescope + 1 background astronomer is partially met from the staffing plan point of view. The actual schedule statistics indicate that 3.4 astronomers were present on average.

Similarly, the goal of 6 TIOs is also met. The recent situation of having 5 TIOs was caused by i/ accumulated vacations that were finally taken, ii/ sick leaves and iii/ cross training of TIOs on different telescopes.

As the VST has been delayed, WFI will continue operation. The best estimate available today is that Omega-Cam commissioning could start in Oct.2004 andVST could be offered in Apr.2005.

As a consequence: all the positions corresponding to WFI operations are extended until VST operation starts, i.e. at least October 2004In practice, this implies that
Post-WFI Era: In the Post-WFI era, NTT and 3.6m will continue to be fully operated. 2.2m will be operated only with FEROS during ESO time (i.e. 2/3 of the time), with reduced TIO support. During MPE time, 2.2m will be offered with WFI and possibly GROND with no astro support, but with some TIO support. It is hoped that some consortium will purchase WFI time, making additional resources available.

JMelnick stressed that the numbers of positions in the Staffing Plan are strict: additional positions are out of the question. As a consequence, we should not adjust the number of people to what we want to do, but on the contrary, what we do to the number of people we have. Another important remark is that it is obvious that reduced staff will cause an increase of down-time. While the measuring system may have to be adjusted in the future, the new limit in the current system would be ~5% technical down-time.


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

This shall be valid for all astronomers (Staff, OpAs and Fellows). Depending on the outcome, if extended, we will rediscuss the issue of the 35days of the fellows.

(Note for Emanuella: this cancels the request I had made for accounting of your duty time in Vitacura).
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.

As already stated above, JMelnick stressed that the numbers of positions in the Staffing Plan are strict: additional positions are out of the question. As a consequence, we should not adjust the number of people to what we want to do, but on the contrary, what we do to the number of people we have.