La Silla Observatory



Re-Engineering Project:
Astronomy Operation


Prepared Olivier Hainaut 2002-03-20
Reviewed Michael Sterzik 2002-
Released Jorge Melnick 2002-
SciOp Internal Use Only
For Review

Revision History

0.1 2002-03-10 first draft, ohainaut
0.2 2002-04-02 2d draft, ohainaut




This document discusses astronomical aspects of the LSO Science Operation Department. It will eventually become part of a larger document describing the Science Operation Department as a whole.


This document is the result of the discussion that took place on Thu. 2002 Mar. 18 at la Silla and Vitacura. Were present at that meeting, in Vitacura, Emmanuella Pompei, John Pritchard, Leonardo Vanzi, Malvina Billeres, Michael Sterzik, Rene Mendez, and in La Silla, Lisa Germany, Martin Kurster and Olivier Hainaut. Gaspare Lo Curto had sent some written input.


In this document, "he" and "his" refer to the position described. In practice, these position can be occupied by people of any gender.



DMD Data Management (and Operation) Division
MPE Max Planck Institute
MTS Medium Term Scheduling
OB Observation Block
OPC Observation Program Committee
OpA Operation Astronomer, aka 80/20 Astronomer
P2PP Phase II Preparation Package
QC Quality Control
QC Quality Control
SM Service Mode
USG User's Support Group
VA Visiting Astronomer
VM Visitor Mode
VisAs Visiting Astronomers Department
WFI Wide Field Imager



In this section, Astronomer refer to all the flavors of astronomers available, i.e. Staff, OpAs, Fellows (described in [1]) and to a certain extent, Students.

The tasks and duties of the La Silla SciOp Astronomers are


It is considered desirable that, in the case of VM, the Phase II (P2PP, strategy, etc) and the night support are provided by the same person, i.e. as done at present. Indeed, having these tasks split between 2 persons would cause a psychological chock on the VA... However, it should be noted that some of the Telescope Introduction could possibly be delegated to the TIO (e.g. tour of the telescope). This has to be experimented with.

The possibility of having the Phase II preparation could take place in Vitacura, e.g. in cases where that would permit the support astronomer to come later on the mountain. This was experimented with success at the NTT. It should however remain an exception.

It is also stressed that the VAs should do their homeworks before the Phase II preparation, i.e. read the manuals and think about what they want to do. This will have to be made clear to the VAs before they arrive.

The possibility of (limited) "remote observing" or "remote operation" from Vitacura is also considered. This would permit more flexibility, e.g. in case of trouble-shooting, tests, and even observations. This is to be experimented with.


Obviously, what follows concerns the astronomers after the completion of their training period.


Every astronomer (staff and OpA) should belong to one Instrument Force (cf [2]), and be able to support all instruments in that force (to the level of a good generic introduction), and be specialist (i.e. be able to provide in-depth support and good level of trouble-shooting) of at least one instrument. After some time at La Silla, the Astronomers should also be able to provide basic support on at least one instrument of another Instrument Force.

Most astronomers are likely to be at some point Instrument Scientist (cf [2]) of an instrument.

As stated in [1], it is expected from the Astronomers that they will remain informed while being in Vitacura, by reading emails and replying to urgent emails related to their duties, and perform/complete urgent tasks related to their duties for SciOp. This should take a very small fraction of their research time.

2.3.2- FELLOWS

Every Fellow should be specialist (to the level of providing in-depth introduction and basic trouble-shooting) of one instrument, and be able to provide generic introduction on at least one instrument of the same instrument Force.

The contract of the Fellows include 80n of duties on the mountain, and 35 days of duties in Vitacura. These 35d are used to ensure the continuity of their service to SciOp (e.g. read SciOp email, reply to those concerning them directly, complete urgent tasks, etc.), and perform background tasks such as documentation, analysis, etc. The Fellows are not expected to keep detailed track of their time in Vitacura, but experience (+ time record from some template fellows) shows that this does not amount to 35d. The remainder is considered as a compensation for possible over-run of their 80n quota on La Silla (not to be abused, and to be kept at a small level, e.g. no more than 10%), required by emergency situations or schedule impossibilities.


Currently, the ESO Students are not included in the La Silla Operation, although some experienced was gained from Students who volunteered to work for the Teams. Students have no obligation (by contract) to perform duties at the Observatories. It is also noted that the Observatories are not a training camp so, if they work at La Silla, the Observatory should get some return from that work.

The current experience with students showed that involving them in long term project is a failure: they don't come enough to La Silla, and they are not supposed to work in such project in Vitacura. On the other hand, they proved to provide very efficient help for very well defined tasks that can be completed in very short time (few hours to few days, to be competed before they finish their "turno"), i.e. "here-and-now" projects.

Based on this, it is proposed that the Students will be proposed to volunteer to perform a small amount of duties (of the order of 40n/yr). These duties will be of the "here-and-now" kind, i.e. should be completed at the end of their "turno". These will be decided on a trimester by trimester bases (i.e. each scheduling period). Once accepted (i.e. once the schedule is accepted and published), the Student are committed to perform the scheduled "turnos" and to follow the instructions they are given.

The implementation of this scheme will be negotiated with the relevant instances (Science Division, etc), and the budget to cover their travel and stay expenses will have to be secured for >2002. For 2002, an arrangement will have to be found between the different parties.



Currently, the staff of SciOps includes 5 Staff Astronomers (>=105n/yr), 4 OpAs (>=120n/yr, with some variation from contract to contract) and 7 Fellows (=80n/yr). In the long run (>=2004), SciOp will have 4 Staffs, 4 OpAs and 2 Fellows (assuming one of the remaining Fellow position is converted in an OpA, which is the current plan). This will ensure 980 man-night/yr, i.e. an average of 2.7 astronomer per night. It is therefore not possible to ensure full coverage of 1 astronomer/night/telescope.


Currently, the OpAs have 1-yr "Paid Associate" contracts with no retirement benefits, with a duty level varying between 120 and 135 nights/yr.

The duty level should be uniformized for all new contracts, e.g to 125n/yr, which is the number currently used for scheduling purposes. Also, the OpA contracts should be as much as possible made similar to those of Paranal, i.e. 3yrs with retirement benefits. The implementation of this point will have to be negotiated with the relevant instances (Pers. and Co).


In order to ensure the quality of the support, it will become a necessity to constrain the program schedule as follow

The implementation will have to be negotiated with the relavant instances.


The following is considered as what SciOp can reasonably and efficiently support in terms of Service Observations. Its implementation for P>=70 will be negotiated with the relevant instances (OPC, VisAs and Co).


Visitor Mode: a Visiting Astronomer to perform his own observations on defined nights.

Flexible Observing: aka "queued observing": during some pre-defined nights, observations are selected for execution from a pool of pre-prepared OBs according to the weather conditions, instrument availability, priorities, etc.

Delegated Observing: on pre-defined nights, a specific observing program is executed by SciOp staff. From the scheduling point of view, this is similar to VM.


4.2.1- 3.6m

Currently, ~3-5% of the time is performed in Service Mode, exclusively as Delegated Observing. As the 3.6m does not receive support from DMD/USG for Phase II, QC and data distribution, this should remain at the ~5% level. As there is no instrument flexibility, and as the number of night in SM is very small, Flexible Scheduling is not an option, so the SM should be exclusively performed as Delegated Observing, and strictly be reserved to

In particular, programs of >= 2 nights should not be accepted in Service Mode any more, since there is no justification for this to happen. More specifically, if the PI does not want to come in person, he should find an observer and not rely on SM.

4.2.2- NTT

A small fraction of the time, about 5-10%, is performed in Service Mode. Thanks to the fact that, in general, all 3 NTT instruments are available at all times, this SM can be offered in full Flexible Mode. Nevertheless, it should be strictly reserved to

The latter two will constitute the "filler" needed for when conditions are not exceptional (i.e. the majority of the time).

Programs of >= 2 nights with no specific constraints should not be accepted in Service Mode any more. More specifically, if the PI does not want to come in person, he should find an observer and not rely on SM.

It must be noted that NTT receives no support from DMD for Phase II, MTS, QC, and data distribution. This is fine provided that the fraction of SM time remains <10%.

4.2.3- 2.2m

30% of the time belongs to MPE, 60% to ESO. The agreement with MPE is that 100% of its time is on WFI in SM. It is expected that about 50% of the ESO time will be scheduled with FEROS.