Subject: Nov 11, 2002 APO 3.5m user's committee meeting minutes

From: strauss@astro.Princeton.EDU

Submitted: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 09:04:50 -0500 (EST)

Message number: 629 (previous: 628, next: 630 up: Index)

  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m User's Committee Meeting
		October 14, 2002

Attending: Al Harper, Bruce Gillespie, Ed Turner, Michael Strauss,
Rene Walterbos, Bruce Balick, Alan Uomoto, Erica Ellingson, Jon

Absent: Don York, Chris Stubbs 

*****************News from the telescope*************************

  There is some expectation of a heavy precipitation winter.  We
therefore may expect a number of episodes of icy conditions keeping
the telescope closed, even under clear skies.  There are heaters in
the dome, but they are largely ineffectual in melting ice.  We
actually try to push ice off the enclosure by climbing up there, but
ice can damage the enclosure mechanism if it is opened.  Even worse if
some ice were to fall on the telescope optics! 

  Cloud camera: Bill Ketzeback has taken on the project to upgrade the
on-line display from the new and improved cloud camera.  Progress is
being made!  Send Bill email ( with your
comments and suggestions.

  Collimation data continue to be taken; it is now being correlated
with data from strain gauges on the secondary truss. 

  The new guider for the echelle will be installed during the December
dark time, while the new DIS optics will go in between December 13 and

  There has been an ongoing effort by Craig Loomis and Russ Owen to
upgrade the MC, Remark, and associated software to Python.
Significant progress has been made; it now is only a few months

*********************Upcoming Board of Governor's Meeting*********

  Ed Turner and Bruce Gillespie are preparing their presentation about
the APO 3.5m to the Board of Governors.  See
for figures of some of the statistics they plan to show.  

  Among the items: 
   -There is no significant change over the last year in the telescope
oversubscription rates.  Note that at most institutions, people ask
for the time they know they can get, meaning that the subscription
rate is not terribly higher than 100%. 

  The use of DIS has dropped 10% since the upgrade.  This may just be
small-number statistics. 

  Ed has asked for science highlights from the various institutions;
he has not yet heard back from all of them.

  We had some discussion about how to encourage cross-institutional
collaborations.  One suggestion that people liked was to include
program titles in the schedule posted to apo35-general each quarter,
so people can see at a glance what's happening at other
institutions. Craig Loomis will put such a thing together.  In fact,
the full text of each proposal is currently available off the
scheduling web page at; click on the program number
(e.g., PU01), and then click on 'program proposal text'.

  Rene Walterbos ( puts together a list of
publications based on SDSS data once a year.  Please send him an
e-mail giving full references to all publications (refereed and
unrefereed), published between October 1, 2001, and September 30,
2002.  The members of the user's committee are responsible for making
sure the relevant publications from each institution get listed. 

  Users are reminded to use the following boilerplate acknowledgement
in papers using 3.5m data: 
"Based on observations obtained with the Apache Point Observatory
3.5-meter telescope, which is owned and operated by the Astrophysical
Research Consortium."

  Over the last year or two, 3.5, operations have been quite routine.
Thus they will spend less time in the report to the board on the
detailed summary of the state of the telescope, and more time on its

  -Future direction of the telescope: Shall it continue to be a
general-purpose telescope a la KPNO, or shall we make it a specialized
niche instrument, or something in between? 
  -Instrumentation 'crisis':  have the roughly $300K/year CIF funds been
used for a healthy instrumentation program?   The plan for leveraging
these funds to make this happen has not been successful.  Of course,
new instruments are in the pipeline: NIC-FPS and the near-IR
spectrographs (note that each required the sale of telescope time to
raise the needed funds).  

  This is a dilemma across observatories (at least within the US).
Gillespie made the following calculation: assuming that one needs 4-5
facility instruments, each with a lifetime of 5-10 years, and each
costing $1M, we would need a fund of $500K/year. 

  Before 2001, $300K/year was focussed mostly on telescope/enclosure
upgrades.  The main big-ticket item ahead along those lines is a new
top end; also known as the 'upgrades to optics supports and drives

  As the telescope matures, we'll need to upgrade things as they wear
out, from the access road to the telescope drives.

  Another approach would be to take the $300K, and apply it all to a
single project.  This gives a new $1.5M instrument every five years,
assuming nothing breaks.

  There was quite a bit of discussion about whether our aging,
workhorse instruments remain useful for science.  The answer is yes:
we have a decent set of basic instruments (or will soon), but we don't
have much in the way of state of the art.  Shall we go to a
state-of-the-art, specialized instrument?  Our consortium's scientific
interests are a bit broad for putting all our eggs in one basket.

  There is interest in doing collaborative programs with the SDSS in
the future, and making this a more unified observatory. 

  TSIP (an NSF instrumentation program) is now open to smaller
telescopes, but does require community access to the telescope.  Is
this good?  Perhaps we require that people getting time through this
come to the site, rather than observe remotely.

  Of course, this means the consortium giving up telescope time!  We
need to think about this...

  Last month's meeting minutes are approved. 

  Next meeting on Monday, December 9 at 11:30 AM East Coast Time. 


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