Subject: 01/08/01 APO 3.5m User's Committee meeting minutes

From: strauss@astro.Princeton.EDU

Submitted: Wed, 10 Jan 2001 09:48:06 -0500 (EST)

Message number: 483 (previous: 482, next: 484 up: Index)

  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m User's Committee Meeting
		January 8, 2001

Attending: Bruce Gillespie, Jon Holtzman, Ed Turner, Michael Strauss,
Alan Uomoto, Rene Walterbos, Lew Hobbs

Not attending: Chris Stubbs

********************Scientific Productivity*************************
  As reported in previous meetings, this past year has seen
substantially fewer publications based on 3.5m data than previous
years.  The members of the user's committee polled the users at each
of their institutions to understand why this was. 

  Strauss: Princeton finds itself doing fine in terms of publication.
We all certainly got less science out due to the extended shutdown in
Fall 1999.  DIS users would like coverage blueward of 3800, and more
wavelength coverage in high-resolution mode.

  The big issue we discussed was the fragmentation of time.
Scheduling in quarters means that the equivalent of three nights per
semester is only 1.5 nights.  This often gets chopped up into
half-nights scattered around, and people find themselves working at
low efficiency, especially if they are used to observing runs of three
contiguous full nights, as one gets when observing at Kitt Peak.
Another advantage of full nights is calibration efficiency; it is much
easier, for example, to determine a photometric solution if you have a
full night to get standard stars.  The following are some of the
comments that came up in our discussion of this issue.

  People do find half-nights convenient if their objects are in one
area of sky, and for monitoring programs of all sorts.

  We should emphasize again to the users that if people need full
nights, they should ask for them explicitly!  In any case, Turner has
made a greater effort this quarter to give people full nights (unless
they explicitly asked for half-nights), and to make contiguous
allocations of time to a particular person.  He has not yet heard back
from people whether they see this as an improvement.

  Note that internally to each institution, people could ask: give me
three full nights this *semester*; I promise not to apply for time
next quarter. 

  Another problem is that we've got the telescope rather fragmented
among many users; each person simply has too little time!  It would be
interesting to see what the distribution of actual time allocated per
astronomer over a year is.  Suppose there is a minimum threshhold of,
say, 4 nights of telescope time to gather enough data to produce one
paper, and if we've got 200 projects each with 1.5 nights, then no-one
will be able to write a paper at the end of a year!  Gillespie will
think about putting together these statistics, and see where we stand.

  It would be useful to have more information on the web about
standard calibration data (response curves, standard arc lamp
spectra).  Note that the SDSS is measuring the extinction on every
night, and this information may be of real use; see for nightly
extinction values, and for more detail
(access restricted to those at SDSS institutions).  

  People are frustrated by the ability to do photometric calibration;
improvements in baffling which are now underway will help a lot.  

  Instrumentation: a lower-noise chip, and auto-guiding, would improve
things a lot on echelle.  More generally, there was a consensus that
we need more modern instrumentation (no surprise!). 

***********************An innovative proposal from JHU**************
The HETE satellite will give precise positions for gamma-ray bursts,
minutes after they go off.  Glazebrook and colleagues wish to use this
information to get echelle spectra of these objects (which, at least
in one case, is known to have gotten to 9th mag a minute after the
burst).  Thus when a HETE detection came up (automatically e-mailed),
the telescope would be usurped, the instrument would be switched to
echelle, and an exposure (or several?) would be taken.  We did not
know details about exactly the criteria to observe an object:
presumably it has to be in the right area of sky, with some selection
for the brighter objects; Glazebrook expects about one appropriate
object every two or three months.  We also didn't know whether one quick
exposure would be taken, or a series of exposures to trace the object
as it fades.  These objects fade very rapidly (magnitudes per minute),
so time is of the essence.  The scientific payoff is quite large, of
course; no-one knows what the initial spectra of these objects are

However, people will be quite upset to have their observing time taken
from them, literally in the middle of an exposure.   Needless to say,
we need to give ample warning to everybody that this might happen.  We
also need a way to compensate people for lost time.  It was suggested
that people who have their time interrupted at all get a full
half-night in compensation.  This time could come from DD time, or
random JHU nights sprinkled throughout the quarter, or nights randomly
taken from other JHU programs.  This is going to take some real
discussion to find the least painful solution. 

  This is the sort of thing that the telescope is optimized for, to be
sure.  No matter what we do, we're going to annoy some people.  In any
case, Glazebrook is going to APO today to discuss options with the
observing staff there (as they will be the ones to carry out this

  There was some discussion last meeting about trying to minimize the
number of people who forget about their observing runs.  Craig Loomis
is putting together an automated e-mail system that sends out an
e-mail to the PI 48 hours in advance reminding them of their time, and
asking them to finalize their setup, etc.  Ed Turner is contemplating
adding a line to the application form in which you would indicate the
e-mail address to which this reminder would go. 

  No comments on last month's minutes. 

  Next meeting, February 12, 11:30 AM East Coast time. 


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