LCO is planning to dedicate up to 70% of its 0.4-meter, 1-meter, and 2-meter telescope time starting in semester 2020B to key projects. Key projects 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. It is anticipated that key projects will have a minimum duration of one year and a maximum of three years.
Key projects will be large efforts – involving several thousand hours of observation. 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 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-Hawaii, University of Texas, and Wise/I-CORE), including those sites (IAC, NAOC) 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, St. Andrews University, and the entire U.S. astronomical community through the NSF OIR Research Lab. 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.
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 (at least 500), 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.
The 2020B semester will begin on June 1, 2020. The nominal maximum period for new key projects will be June 1, 2020 to July 31, 2023.
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:
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.
The probability that the study can be carried out as described. Are the resources available consistent with what will be needed?
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?
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?
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.
In future years, this TAC will also review progress on continuing proposals and make a recommendation on whether to adjust the network time allocation relative to what has been requested.
In order to help us better manage this process, letters of intent to submit key project proposals were solicited in December 2019. The list of individuals (and their science interests) submitting letters of intent was circulated on December 23. The structuring and management of the key project collaborations is left to the proposers. Proposals must be submitted to the LCO Observation Portal by February 14, 2020.
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.
By the start of the 2020B semester, it is expected that the LCO network will comprise the following characteristics and capabilities:
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 more success than those that require significant time on the four 1-meter telescopes 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. A rapid response mode is also supported for cases in which an exposure must start immediately (less than 5 minutes).
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. Final reduced data are available a few minutes later. Data are proprietary for 12 months from the date of observation and public thereafter.