Subject: Nov 27, 2000 Minutes, APO 3.5m User's Committee

From: strauss@astro.Princeton.EDU

Submitted: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 16:45:29 -0500 (EST)

Message number: 467 (previous: 466, next: 468 up: Index)

  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m User's Committee Meeting
		November 27, 2000

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

  The Board of Governor's meeting was held last week.  

  Rene Walterbos was elected the new chair of the Board, as of January
1, 2001, replacing Tim Heckman. 

  The various budgets were approved as requested; in particular, our
full operations budget was approved, including a request for an
additional 1/2 FTE observing specialist, making a total of 3.5 FTEs.
This will much reduce the strain when somebody leaves, as it takes
time to hire new people, and to train them.  We're looking into
various options to fill the other half-time of the person to be hired.

  The overall increase in the operating budget is 8% over last year. 

  The Capital Improvement Fund has been kept at the same level as last
year ($295K).  The board wanted a clearer long-term vision for how
this money would be spent, although they were happy with progress over
the last year. 

  The ideas from the Decadal Survey and the National Observatory
future plans were all in the air, and were discussed at the meeting.
So this is a sensible time to think about longer-term plans, and how
we fit into all of this.  The idea has been floated that
moderate-sized telescopes like ours may eventually need to develop
specialized/niche capabilities to maximize their sceintific
contribution; this would be a challenge for APO because of how the
telescope is allocated and used by a fairly large and diverse user

  The board has recommended that Rene think about organizing a retreat
for telescope users and board members to discuss the future of this

  The improvement in the image quality was presented at the meeting,
as was the improvement in operating robustness; the fraction of time
lost to failures of hardware or software is now at a level comparable
to other mature observatories (i.e., about 2% of the time is
unscheduled downtime). 

  Areas of concern: Staff retention and hiring
		    Slow progress on instrumentation progress
		    Scientific productivity

 Committee members should talk to their observers asking what things
(if any) are limiting them in doing science with the telescope. 

  Note that some institutions may be using the 3.5m primarily for
supporting proposals for other telescopes (e.g., HST), and therefore
the observations may not as directly result in publications. 

  Rene makes the point that the seeing, although better than last
year, is not obviously better than two years ago.  This is unclear;
the statistics would probably look better if we didn't just look at
the seeing histogram for calendar year 2000, and based it instead on
data since the summer shutdown.

  Gillespie: We're still working on thermal control of the primary,
and oscillations of the support system, so the work to improve image
quality is not yet done. 

  Turner: To some extent, the work on image quality has happened at
the expense of attention to instrumentation development. 

  Stubbs: We are indeed working hard on the instrumentation front at
UW, but I remain quite concerned about the status of infrared

  Hobbs: The upgrade to the DIS slitviewer should make a real
difference in scientific productivity for the Chicago users.  

  The slitviewer on the Echelle can't go very deep; it is difficult to
acquire objects fainter than 14 or so.  This makes it difficult to do
any extragalactic work.  Some discussion ensued on the S/N limits that
stellar vs. extragalactic astronomers need to carry out their science;
it was generally felt that extragalactic people would be happy to have
the ability to go fainter, so there is definitely a need for an
upgrade to the slitviewer.

  Negotations with the University of Minnesota to buy the Washington
State University share have unfortunately fallen through.
Negotiations are on-going whether WSU will keep their share, or part
of it. 

  Congratulations are given to Camilla Kirhakos Strauss, born roughly
12 hours after her father left the Peyton Hall observing room...

  Last month's minutes are approved. 

  Next meeting on January 8, 11:30 AM east coast time

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