Subject: APO 3.5m UC meeting minutes, 10/16/00

From: strauss@astro.Princeton.EDU

Submitted: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 14:44:19 -0400 (EDT)

Message number: 464 (previous: 463, next: 465 up: Index)

  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m User's Committee Meeting
		October 16, 2000

Attending: Bruce Gillespie, Chris Stubbs, Lew Hobbs, Ed Turner,
Michael Strauss, Rene Walterbos, Alan Uomoto, Russett McMillan, Jon

	- results of recent shutdown
	- list of to-know items for "certified remote observers"
	- inefficient use of the telescope by some observers
	- possible switch to once per semester scheduling

************Tasks completed during the recent shutdown last week*********

Jon Davis: We carried out the following tasks: 

  -We replaced the rotator motor.  We've seen some improvements in the
performance, although we've still seen some minor overshoots. 

  -We tested the Venturi vacuum pump for the mirror support system.  It
appears to work well.  

  -We modified the mount for M4, used by the WSMR instrument, and now
planned to be used for the Shack-Hartmann instrument.  

  -We tested the mounting of the new Holtzman slit-viewing camera for

  -We looked carefully at those cracks related to the epoxying of the
mirror support system that hadn't been examined properly before
(because they were too close to the front faceplate).  They appear
very similar to the pattern we saw last fall; the cracks are
scallop-shaped, and show no sign of having propagated; they seem to be
stable.  This is very good news; further propagation towards the
surface of the mirror would have been terrible.  So at the moment, we
have no plans to do anything about these cracks other than monitoring
them carefully (remember that we had at one point thought about taking
the telescope out of commission for an extended period to try to fix
these; we now don't think this is necessary.)

  -We obtained a better map of the temperature sensors.  

  -The GRIM balance was improved. 

   We've been back on the sky since Friday night. 

Note that the telescope has actually delivered sub-0.5" seeing on
SPICAM a few times, and sub-arcsec seeing is becoming quite common. 

***********List of to-know items for "certified remote observers"********

  Russet McMillan and Camron Hasting have put together a list of what
observers should actually learn when they come out to the telescope to
be certified as remote users.  The list is in two parts: Physical
knowledge about the configuration of the telescope and instruments,
and specific knowledge about the usage of Remark.  It is included as
an Appendix to these minutes, and will be included on the observatory

  Russet and Camron presently hand this list to new observers coming to the
mountain. We might consider asking already certified observers to go
over this list and affirm that they understand all the points raised
on it (and if not, they could be taken off the list, or come out to
the mountain to refamiliarize themselves with the telescope).

  Stubbs: Shall we consider making this into a worksheet, that people
work through to develop and show their understanding? 

  We discussed how new people get trained in practice.  When the
telescope first opened, blocks of time (roughly 1 week long) were
scheduled by various institutions, to come out and get large groups of
people trained all at once; should we consider doing similar things
again?  In practice, this is up to the individual institutions. 

*************************Observing efficiency:*************************

Observing specialists are reporting that one of the more serious
causes of lost science time is due to inexperienced observers getting
confused, observing in inefficient ways.  The most common problem is
people not ready to begin at the beginning of their time.  Some people
only show up at the end of twilight, so, e.g., focus time is lost.  In
addition, some observers appear to be unprepared in terms of
familiarity with the instruments and software they are to use and/or
detailed planning of observing programs and procedures.

  It might be useful to get some feedback to the individual user's
committee members about people from their institutions who might be

We definitely want to use this telescope as efficiently as possible;
the nightly cost of running the telescope is of order $6000, depending
exactly on how you calculate this numbers.  Effective use of allocated
telescope time is primarily a responsibility of each partner
institution; local policies and practices to ensure efficient use of
the 3.5m are entirely appropriate.

  Different observers have very different ideas about what their
responsibilities are versus those of the observing specialists.  

  Remember that it is often much more efficient to call the mountain
when things get confused, than trying to sort things out via the
message window.  Telescope time is much more expensive than a
long-distance phone call!

  Remote observing often requires working a normal full day at home,
then staying up all night; people should make sure that APO observing
is put at high priority in their lives.  That is, they should make
sure to put enough time aside to get properly prepared and focussed
before the observing starts.

  Walterbos: Perhaps the individual institutions might consider
requiring their observers to write up a brief report after each night,
saying how well the night went, how well they used their time, and
where things might be better.

  Chris Stubbs suggests putting together a newsletter on a regular
basis, describing recent developments on the telescope, progress on
observing techniques, etc., etc.  Much discussion whether the e-mail
exploders, these minutes, etc., are sufficient for keeping people
informed about the status of the telescope and instrument.

  Walterbos: We need to make sure that all the on-line instrument
manuals are up-to-date.  This is not so easy, as each of these manuals have
been written by different people. 

  The idea was raised that we switch to scheduling the telescope in
6-month blocks, rather than the current three-month blocks.  However,
everyone agreed that the current 3-month scheduling cycle is just
right.  People take advantage of the flexibility and the short
turn-around time for their science. 

  Last month's minutes are approved. 

  Next meeting on November 27, 11:30 AM east coast time


Appendix: What new observers should know about observing on the 3.5m;
	       Russet McMillan and Camron Hasting

Telescope Design and Operation

The purpose of the on-site training requirement is to give observers a
clear idea of what they are doing with each command or request sent from
the remote location.  Also, we would like the remote observer to
understand the tasks asked of the observing specialist, and what is
required for the observing specialist to accomplish these tasks. After
three days on site, the observer should:

1.	Be able to visualize the light path through the telescope, including
the tertiary, the Nasmyth foci, the function of the mirror covers and
eyelids, and the NA2 rotator.

2.	Be acquainted with the basic design of the four general-use
instruments, including size, weight, rotating or non-rotating, and where
they are mounted.  Be familiar with the off-axis mount of the NA2
Guider, and how it is affected by rotator position.

3.	Understand what is involved when the observing specialist performs
basic tasks, such as opening the dome, mirror covers, louvers, or
eyelids, and changing instruments.  Understand how long these tasks
normally take and why, including the fact that changing instruments
to/from the echelle is faster than changes at NA2.  Understand the pinch
points and the dangers the observing specialist may face if the
telescope moves at the wrong time.

4.	Know what windows the observing specialist typically has open for
monitoring the telescope and the weather.  Understand what information
is available to the observing specialist, and how hard or easy it is to
extract.  Know what weather conditions require closing the telescope,
and realize that closure is solely at the observing specialist's

5.	Understand the motion of the telescope in azimuth and altitude, the
fact that the enclosure moves with the telescope, and the limitations on
telescope motion.  Understand why a rotator is needed for any imaging
instrument, and why it's not needed for the echelle.

6.	Know the position of the calibration lamps in relation to the light
path, and how cals are normally taken.  Know why "Are we pointing at the
flat field screen?" is a poor question.

7.	Know the basic layout of the observatory, including the distance from
enclosure to control room, the behavior of the fans, and the positions
of the cloud camera, DIMM, and the other telescopes.

8.	Understand the flow of telescope and instrument commands. What the
MC and the TCC are, and how they interact.

Remark Graphical Telescope and Instrument Control Software

Learning to use Remark efficiently is NOT the primary purpose of on-site
observing, because it takes longer than a few nights to become
efficient.  The first time the observer uses Remark in remote mode, it's
best to have a more experienced observer present even though it isn't
specifically required.  However, the observer should pick up as much of
the following basic knowledge as possible while on site:

1.	Be able to start Remark, connect communications to the MC and set
observing priority level to appropriate status. Understand the protocol
for priority levels.

2.	Know how to read the telescope status window, enter coordinates in
the slew control window, and switch from slew control to offset control.

3.	Know how to call up the instrument control window.  Know why it's
important to Sync any Remark-controlled instrument before changing its
state, and sometimes after.

4.	Understand the control interface for the chosen primary instrument
(and have at least a rough idea of the interface for other instruments).

	a.	For all instruments: How to set filename, sequence number, number
and type of images, and exposure time.

	b.	For SPIcam: How to set path and filter, get online help for a
command, and run the focus script. (Not operated through Remark)

	c.	For DIS: How to set grating and slit wheel positions, how to control
the calibration lamps with either xterm or web interface.

	d.	For Echelle: How to move the cal mirror and control the cal lamps.
How to take full frames, subframes, or autoexpose loops with the
slitviewer.  Also important: know how to adjust the grayscale on the
slitviewer image and how to use the offset window for guiding. How to
center object on the slit (click-to-center)

	e.	For GRIM: How to change from Imaging to Dark mode, set image scale
and change filters.  Also important: know how to have images displayed
on the local Mac, how to set up auto-ftp, how to start an MC-node and
source and call a script.

5.	Understand that two Remark-run instruments cannot run at the same
time, and know how remote users can interfere with each other.  Be aware
of the problems that can occur when the observing specialist focuses
GRIM or the Echelle.

6.	For each instrument, know how it is normally focused and by whom
(remote observer or observing specialist), and how long the focusing
process should take.

On both of the lists above, the first three items are vital. Observers
should not consider themselves ready for remote observing until they
have mastered those six items at the very least. Of course, more is
- RM, NCH (9-29-00)

APO APO APO APO APO  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m  APO APO APO
APO  This is message 464 in the apo35-general archive. You can find
APO  the archive on
APO  To join/leave the list, send mail to
APO  To post a message, mail it to