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Writing key project proposals

We accept key project proposals from all researchers whose institutions have access to LCO. This includes LCO Science Collaboration members and investigators at US institutions who are eligible to apply for LCO Open Access time through NOIRLab and members of LCO's extended science family.

Proposal submission

Proposals must be submitted through LCO's Observatory portal. Users must first register. After registering, users can click on the "Manage proposals" link, followed by the "Submit proposal" link (upper-right corner), then the "Apply" button to access the web-based proposal form. (The form is made available after the call for proposals is issued.)

Proposal format

The fields that must be completed in the proposal submission interface to successfully submit a key project proposal are the following:

  • Title. Limited to 100 characters
  • Abstract. Limited to 500 words
  • Principal Investigator. If this is not the author, fill in the PI's last name, first name, email address and institution name.
  • Co-investigators. Last names, first names, email addresses and institution names of Co-Is. Key Project proposals with > 10 investigators can include a separate page listing the CoI information in a table. Proposers can also specify if there are CoPIs in that table. This should be attached as the last page of the proposal.
  • Observing Budget. Observing time in hours on each instrument for each semester in which time is requested. Specify time requested for rapid-response and time-critical observations separately.

The remainder of the proposal must be included in a single pdf file. The file should include the following sections but not an author list or cover page. LCO will append the cover page.

Section 1: Science Plan

  • A. Science justification. (~5 pages) Background information and a statement of the goals of the project. A concise account of related programs on other observatories can be included here. If this proposal is for a continuation of an existing Key Project, results of any previous time allocated for this project should be discussed in Section 2-A.
  • B. Experimental design. (~4 pages) A description of the strategy of the observing program, including the characteristics of the targets, the measurements to be made from the data, and what additional work will be done to address the science goals. This section must include an explanation of the observing budget, in which the instrument selection, exposure times, and total number of hours requested are justified. Requests for Rapid Response or Time Critical observations must be justified independently. If unusual scheduling constraints might impact the project's success, identify them.
  • C. Management plan. (~2 pages) A description of how the project is managed, including the observing program and the path to science.
  • D. Figures and tables. (~4 pages)
  • E. References. (~1 page)

Authors can determine the exact size of each subsection in the Science Plan but the total should be approximately 15 pages of content plus 1 page of references. Figures and tables can be embedded in the narrative or segregated into a separate subsection. It is recommended that proposers utilize at least 4 pages for figures and tables.

Section 2: Supporting Material

  • A. Report on the past use of LCO time. (1-3 pages)
    • For continuation proposals, up to three pages summarizing results from the current key project can be included here.
    • Proposals for new projects should include a concise (1 page) description summarizing previous use of LCO.
  • B. Applicant's related publications. A list of relevant publications from the past 3 years.
  • C. Large Co-I list. Key Project proposals with > 10 investigators can include a separate page listing all of the CoI information in a table. Proposers can also specify if there are CoPIs in that table.

The proposal body must conform to the following constraints:

  • The font size must be 11 points or larger. (Caption fonts may be smaller.)
  • Margins on all edges must be at least 1 inch.
  • Line spacing must be no denser than 6 lines per inch.
  • Section headings must be labeled as listed above.
  • Include page numbers on all pages.
  • The file size must be under 15MB.

The required sections and recommended numbers of pages are summarized in the table below.

Section 1: Science plan
A. Science Justification 5 pages
B. Experimental Design 4 pages
C. Management Plan 2 pages
D. Figures and Tables 4 pages
E. References 1 page
Section 2: Supporting Material
A. Past use of LCO Current KP = 3 pages; new KP = 1 page
B. Related papers 1 page
C. Large CoI list (if necessary)

Available telescopes, instruments, software tools:

For the 2023B semester, Las Cumbres Observatory has two 2-meter telescopes, thirteen 1-meter telescopes and ten 0.4-meter telescopes available for science observations. The 2m telescope at Siding Spring Observatory (Faulkes Telescope South) is equipped with a Spectral imager and a FLOYDS low-dispersion spectrograph. The 2m telescope at Haleakala Observatory (Faulkes Telescope North) is equipped with a MuSCAT 4-band multi-channel imager and a FLOYDS low-dispersion spectrograph. The 1m telescopes are equipped with Sinistro imagers.  The Network of Robotic Echelle Spectrographs (NRES) has units installed on 1m telescopes at our Cerro Tololo (Chile), McDonald (Texas), Sutherland (South Africa), and Wise (Israel) sites. The 0.4m telescopes are equipped with SBIG imagers. For information on all Network instruments, please consult the Observatory Instruments page.

The Exposure Time Calculator (ETC) can help you estimate your observing time budget. The ETC will calculate the exposure time required to achieve a given signal-to-noise ratio for an object of a given magnitude. You refine the calculation by selecting the telescope class (2m, 1m, or 0.4m), filter (U, B, V, etc.), lunar phase, and airmass.

The Target Visibility Calculator shows how observable a given position (RA & Dec) are on the LCOGT network. A target's "seasonal visibility" is the UT range that the target is visible over a range a dates. A target's "daily visibility" is its trajectory of altitudes/airmasses as seen at the network sites on a particular (user-selected) day.

Observation overheads

Every observation has a time overhead associated with it. For every new object acquired, there are associated Slew & Settle times and Acquisition & Setup times.  For every exposure, there is an associated readout time. And for every FLOYDS spectrum, there are associated calibration (reference arc and flat) observations.  Calibration observations (biases, darks, flats) for the imagers are obtained during twilight, and the time for these is not charged to users.  

When calculating the observing budget for your proposal, you should takes these times into account:

slew & settle 120s 180s 180s 180s 90s 90s
acquisition & setup
(includes filter change for imagers)
150 s 18 s 16 s 430 s 18 s 18 s
26 s 19 s 6 s
46 s
58 s 9 s
(central 2x2)
28 s
(full 1x1)
14 s
(arc and flat at target position)
95s - - NA - - -

Example 1: An observation request that consists of three 60s exposures through the V filter with Sinistro. Total request = 90s (slew and settle) + 18s (acquisition and setup) + [3 x (60s + 28s) (exposure plus readout)] = 372 seconds.

Example 2: A 15-minute integration with FLOYDS. Total request = 120s (slew and settle) + 150s (acquisition and setup) + 900s (exposure) + 26s (readout) + 95s (calibration) = 1291 seconds.

Time-charging Policy

Time charged includes all the overhead associated with slewing the telescope, acquiring the target, preparing the instrument, and reading out the detector, in addition to the actual exposure time.  You should include overheads in the time request in your proposal. Use the appropriate Slew & Settle time and Acquisition & Setup time for each new object, then add the readout time for each separate exposure.

Time is charged for all exposures attempted, regardless of the quality or delivery of the data.

The Observatory portal displays the number of hours of an approved allocation that have been used.

Observing Modes

LCO supports three observing modes:

  • Queue-scheduled observations are sequences of one or more "blocks" defined by a single time window (for one) or a cadence (for more than one). A block is a set of exposures, intended to be executed contiguously. A block may be several identical exposures or it may involve filter changes or exposure time changes.
  • Time-critical observations must be made at relatively tightly constrained times that rarely occur. Examples are predictable (but infrequent) transits, observations simultaneous with other observatories, and follow-up to rare events that evolve quickly. These observations are submitted to the scheduler with high priority, so that they have a good chance of getting scheduled at the critical time.
  • Rapid-response observations are intended to take place as quickly as possible (typically within 10 minutes of the target's availability). Execution of a rapid-response observation will terminate an ongoing queue-scheduled block. If a rapid-response observation cannot be executed immediately, it will be executed as soon as possible, up to a limit of 6 hours.

Proposals must request queue-scheduled, time-critical and rapid-response time observations separately, and time-critical and rapid-response requests must be adequately justified.

Authors of proposals that have special scheduling constraints (e.g., simultaneous observations by two telescopes, multi-night or multi-site time series) are advised to contact LCO personnel for advice on feasibility before submission.

Data Access

Pipeline reduced data may be searched and downloaded through the LCO Science Archive.  Data are available in the archive soon after they are transferred from the observing site (typically <10 minutes after the instrument shutter closes).

Science data has a default proprietary period of 12 months from the time of a given observation.  Data that has reached the end of its proprietary period is accessible from the LCO Science Archive.