The first deadline for proposals for the Gemini telescopes is likely to be 31 March 2000 (see article elsewhere in this Newsletter). It is therefore appropriate to announce now that we plan to implement the same policies for allocation of time on these telescopes as are used for allocating time on Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo telescopes. Specifically, you will be able to use the same observing forms and procedures with which you are already familiar, and the TACs will operate in exactly the same manner. If current experience at CTIO and KPNO is a guide, we can expect that 80-90 percent of the US share of the observing time on the Gemini telescopes will go to astronomers outside NOAO.
NOAO is responsible for providing support to the US users of the Gemini telescopes, except when the observers are actually at the observatories in Hawaii or Chile. NOAO staff will be the first point of contact for questions about planning observing programs at Gemini, optimizing observing strategies, and reducing data --- just as they now are for CTIO and KPNO telescopes. Therefore, NOAO staff will have to become knowledgeable about the Gemini instruments and their quirks and capabilities.
The best way for the staff to acquire the necessary depth of knowledge is to use the telescopes and instruments themselves. Recognizing this requirement, the AURA Board has established a set of policies relating to the allocation of observing time by NOAO. These policies state that the allocation of time is the responsibility of the Observatory Director, that the same procedure will be used to evaluate proposals from both NOAO staff and from the community, and that the Director may assign at his/her ``discretion up to 25 percent of the time during which the telescopes are scheduled for observations for science, science verification tests of new instrumentation, for calibrating or testing the performance of old instrumentation, or for telescope maintenance. At least 60 percent of scheduled observing time shall be assigned to scientists who are not on the staff of NOAO.''
In practice, I have never used the full allocation of discretionary time on the CTIO and KPNO telescopes. When I came to KPNO, I discovered that historically about 10 percent of the available time was used for commissioning new instruments, installing and testing upgrades to the telescopes, etc. Demand for engineering time continues at about this level, and I have scheduled it as part of the discretionary allotment. I have also used up to 10 percent of the total available time for discretionary allocations of nights for scientific observations. This science time has been allocated only to proposals that have been reviewed and evaluated by the TAC and has been used to:
With the advent of the Gemini telescopes, some modification of the implementation of this policy is needed. While NOAO will not require any engineering time from the US allocation of Gemini observing time, the other three factors listed above are relevant. There will be NOAO (and perhaps external) scientists who are responsible for supporting US astronomers in writing observing proposals, planning observing runs using the Gemini software, and understanding and reducing data; these supporting scientists will need to have an opportunity to use the Gemini instruments. NOAO (with the permission of AURA, the NSF, and the Gemini Board) has offered ``guaranteed time'' to US instrument builders who can provide some funding for US-built instruments. And, occasionally, it will be important to accept proposals that did not make the cut recommended by the TAC.
The need to support these efforts with Gemini observing time has been discussed and endorsed by the US Gemini Science Advisory Committee, the NOAO Users' Committee, and the AURA Observatories Council, although a specific implementation plan had not been developed when these committees met.
What should the implementation plan be? At any given time, there might be one instrument team collecting guaranteed time on each telescope: a maximum of 5-6 nights per year per telescope might be allocated to the team. There might be an additional 5-7 nights per year per telescope for which discretionary allocation for support of science observations is desirable. This totals 10-13 nights, or up to about 10% of the annual US allotment on each telescope. I have indicated to the AURA Board that I would like to limit discretionary time on the Gemini telescopes (and on the independent telescopes to which NOAO provides access) to 10 percent. In all cases, I will continue my current practice of awarding discretionary time only to proposals, whether from staff or visitors, that have been evaluated by the TAC.
If you have any comments on this proposal, please feel free to send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will forward them (unedited!) to the AURA Observatories Council and the AURA President.