Key Projects 2018B

Proposals for Key Projects must be submitted by March 29, 2018 at 23:59 UTC

LCO dedicates most of its 0.4-meter, 1-meter, and 2-meter telescope time to key projects. These are large, coherent observing programs designed to take maximum advantage of the unique attributes of the LCO network to address important astrophysical problems. Our goal is to highlight for the world the best science that can be done with the LCO network.

Key projects will be large efforts. We expect that project teams will form to carry these out. The level of effort will be significant but the potential return is great. Because LCO is contributing large amounts of telescope time to support this program, we require that collaborators on proposing teams coming from other institutions commit significant resources to the effort. Such resources could be access to other facilities, or additional time on the LCO network from their own institution, or computing resources, or scientist time.

We invite all members of the LCO science collaboration to submit proposals to the LCO Key Project Program as Principal Investigators or as members of a proposing team. This includes the LCO site partners (ANU, CNTAC, SAAO, IfA, and University of Texas), including those sites (IAC, NAOC and Wise Obs/I-CORE) at which telescopes are planned but not yet built. It also includes the institutions with which we have other types of partnerships – IPAC, University of Colorado , University of California at Santa Barbara, ARI/LJMU, St. Andrews University, and the entire U.S. astronomical community through NOAO. Anyone who lists one of these institutions as their affiliation for published research may PI a proposal. We also invite the LCO extended scientific family – in addition to current staff, this includes astronomers who were postdocs at LCO within the last 5 years, and astronomers who contributed to our advisory and allocation committees within the last 2 years.

Definition of Key Projects

Key projects are large projects that will have substantial scientific impact on problems that are widely considered to be of significant astrophysical interest. They require a large number of hours, and may require observations over several years (nominally up to 3 years, though scientific arguments for longer periods will be considered). Key projects often provide observational or derived data sets that are of interest to other researchers, in part because they can gather observations of a particular class of object in a coherent and uniform way.

Key projects are carried out by well-organized teams with well thought out management of effort and resources. They are likely to require resources in addition to the telescope time, perhaps computing for analysis or theoretical studies, or time on larger telescopes to further follow a subset of the sample. 
Key projects have a final goal; they are not just a data gathering exercise. It is expected that the project is designed to accomplish that goal, and that the resources are available or there is a plan for acquiring the needed resources.

Project Duration

It is anticipated that key projects will have a minimum duration of one year and a maximum of three years. LCO schedules proposals in 6-month semesters. The A semesters run from December 1 to May 31, and the B semesters run from June 1 to November 30.  The nominal maximum duration of a new key projects will be from June 1, 2018 to May 31, 2021.

LCO is currently supporting 6 key projects. One of these will conclude at the end of the 2018A semester. Because of prior commitments, LCO may not be able to fully support new key projects in the first (2018B) semester. However, successful proposal teams will have the 2018B semester to organize and "ramp up" their observations, in anticipation of full allocations of time in the 2019A and subsequent semester. Time not allocated for key projects will be available for standard proposals, for which a call has been issued.

Review Process and Criteria

Proposals will be reviewed by a panel of external astronomers (TAC), from institutions that are not part of the LCO collaboration. They will be selected not only to ensure that their scientific expertise covers the range over which we expect to receive key project proposals, but also in that they understand the types of observations that the LCO facilities can do uniquely well.

The TAC will rank the proposals based on the following criteria:

Scientific merit

The value that the proposed project will have both within the area of specialization and more broadly, within astronomy and science, generally.  It is important that the science goals be crisply defined so that the key projects do not fence off areas of research that others outside the key project would like to pursue.

Credibility of effort

The probability that the study can be carried out as described. Are the resources available consistent with what will be needed?

Experimental design

Are the proposed observations and other work consistent with the LCO network and other capabilities? Have they been thought out in sufficient detail and depth?

Suitability for LCO’s unique capabilities

Does the proposed study take advantage of the unique aspects of the LCO network? Will this project demonstrate a result that could not be obtained without LCO?

Resources brought by other collaborators

While we want to encourage collaboration within the group of institutions that have worked together to make the LCO network a reality, we also want the burden of carrying out large projects like these to be shared fairly. We expect that any institution that participates in a key project will demonstrate a commitment to such a significant effort. We imagine a wide range of different types of resources may be relevant, and we leave it to proposers to be creative.  Note that LCO makes a commitment of up to three years on the allocation of time.  The time period over which other resource commitments are being made should be explicit.

In addition to their ranking, the TAC will make a recommendation to the LCO Director, who will allocate the LCO time, based on the TAC recommendation as well as programmatic considerations.

Announcement of successful programs will be made by May 15, 2018.

Proposals approved as new key projects will be required to submit annual status reports, together with requests for modifications to the allocations specified in the original proposal. These reports will be reviewed by the key project TAC in subsequent years, and the requested modifications will be considered on the basis of the TAC review.

Observatory Capabilities

The LCO network comprises the following characteristics and capabilities:

Two 2-meter telescopes are instrumented with Spectral imagers and FLOYDS low-dispersion spectrographs.

Nine 1-meter telescopes are instrumented with Sinistro imagers.  Three of the high-resolution, high-stability NRES instruments are available at our sites in Chile, South Africa, and Texas. The fourth NRES unit, at the Wise Observatory 1-meter telescope in Israel, will be made available later in the 2018B semester. It is expected that one additional 1-meter telescopes will be available at McDonald Observatory during the 2019B semester, and two more 1-meter telescopes may be available at our site in Tenerife soon after.

Ten 0.4-meter telescopes are available for this program, two each at our sites in Australia, Tenerife, Chile and Maui and one each at our sites in South Africa and Texas. The 0.4-m telescopes are equipped with SBIG 6303 imagers.

A single software scheduler optimizes the assignment of observations to telescopes.  Conflicts are addressed by trying to balance the scientific priority of an observation with the desire to prevent idle time.  Key projects are given high scientific priority in the scheduling system. However, note that the network does not cover all parameters uniformly – for example, projects that can do most of their observing with the eight 1-meter telescopes in the southern hemisphere will have much more success than those that require significant time on the single 1-meter telescope in the northern hemisphere.

Current key projects have found it advantageous to develop software tools to help them manage their projects, including their interaction with the observatory system and within their team.  Observation requests are submitted to the LCO scheduler either through a web form or through a programmatic API.  APIs also exist to query status of observations and to retrieve data.  Observations are specified as one or more exposures, optionally linked by a defined cadence.  Two other request modes are available.  A rapid response mode is supported for cases in which an exposure must start immediately (less than 15 minutes). A time critical mode is supported for cases in which an observation must be scheduled at a specific time.

Calibration observations, including bias frames, dark frames, flat fields, and photometric standard fields are obtained automatically.  Science exposures are all pipeline processed and maintained in a science archive.  Raw data are available from the archive within a few minutes after the completion of each exposure.  Quicklook reduced data are available a few minutes later, and final reduced data are available following the completion of end-of-night calibrations at the relevant site.  Data are proprietary for 12 months from the date of observation, and public thereafter.

More information on the capabilities of the LCO network can be found on our observatory information pages.