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Call for Letters of Intent: NOAO Survey Programs

Monday, July 9, 2018 - 14:40

NOAO Survey Programs

NOAO LogoThe National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) offers the opportunity to conduct major survey programs on telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (including SOAR) in Chile, and Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Investigators wishing to conduct surveys using the Gemini telescopes can submit proposals through the Gemini Large and Long Programs TAC. Up to 20% of the observing time available through NOAO may be allocated to survey programs; we anticipate allocating a larger fraction of the time with DECam on the Blanco telescope depending on the response to the 2019 Call for Proposals. Proposals that make use of facilities in both northern and southern hemispheres are particularly encouraged.

A list of approved Survey Programs is available.

Current Status:

NOAO is issuing a call for new survey proposals starting in the 2019A and B semesters. Investigators must submit letters of intent to propose for the NOAO/NCOA Survey Program to by 15 August 2018 to be eligible to submit full proposals for surveys commencing in the 2019A/2019B semesters. The deadline for receiving full survey proposals is 1 October 2018 at 11:59 pm Mountain Standard Time.

What Is a Survey Program?

A survey program is a significant observational program that:

  • addresses novel, well-focused scientific goals;
  • enables scientific programs requiring large, statistically complete, and homogeneous data;
  • provides a basis for planning more detailed follow-up studies;
  • enables extensive archival research; and
  • represents a significant enhancement over existing surveys.

Successful programs are expected to be completed in 3 years or less. Data must be processed with a well-tested and well-documented pipeline, must be archived in a convenient format, and must be made publicly available no longer than one year after the first images are pipeline processed.

How to Propose a Survey Program

Letters of intent to propose an NOAO survey program must be received by email to no later than 15 August 2018 for surveys starting in the 2019A and B semesters.

Letters should include the information below, formatted as follows:

  • Title of project
  • PI with full name of institution and contact information (phone & email)
  • Co-I's with full names of institutions
  • Broad scientific goals of the program (enough detail to allow us to identify sensible reviewers)
  • Telescope/instruments to be requested in each semester (up to six).
  • Any special technical considerations for the program (e.g., specific observing cadences, rapid data-processing requirements, etc.)

We understand that this is preliminary information, and it may change in detail as the proposal is developed.

Letters of intent will serve two purposes. First, they will allow us to plan our evaluation process based on the number and content of potential proposals. This includes selection of an evaluation committee with appropriate expertise and minimal conflict of interest. Second, the description of the proposed survey will be reviewed to ensure that the program fits the adopted definition of a survey. Please keep these purposes in mind when composing a letter of intent and provide as much relevant information as possible. The level of response to the 2019 call may also be used to adjust the balance of time on the Blanco telescope between surveys and normal programs.

Proposals for NOAO survey programs will be accepted annually. Proposers may obtain detailed proposal information and forms from the NOAO webpage. Proposal materials are typically updated about one month before each deadline.

Proposals should include:

  • a discussion of the primary scientific goals of the survey;
  • the relationship to and advances over existing or ongoing surveys;
  • additional potential uses of survey data;
  • a description of the experimental design, including sample selection, instrumentation, scheduling requirements, calibration, etc.;
  • a statement of how and when the data will be made publicly available;
  • a table of telescopes, instruments, number of nights, and lunar phase requested for each semester during which the survey is carried out; and
  • a survey management plan including a discussion of data reductions, archiving, and staffing to carry out the program.

Survey investigators who wish their programs to be considered for one-semester allocations in the event that their survey proposal is declined should also submit a regular proposal to be considered by the TAC (survey proposals are reviewed by a special survey TAC). Investigators should note on the regular proposal that the program has also been submitted as a survey program, and that time should not be awarded to the regular program if the survey is approved.

Special considerations for Survey Programs with DECam on Blanco

  • The completion in the 2018B semester of observations for the Dark Energy Survey (DES) and DECam Legacy Survey (DECaLS) will open up approximately 125 additional nights per year on the Blanco telescope starting in 2019. Since the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) is a survey machine par excellence, we intend to allocate a substantial fraction of available DECam time to new survey programs. We will use the Letters of Intent to judge the appropriate balance between surveys and standard small program.
  • Investigators are encouraged to think creatively and ambitiously about the scientific possibilities for DECam in the post-DES era. In addition to traditional surveys aimed at wide area coverage, we are open to “time-domain surveys” wherein a smaller field is covered repeatedly with some cadence over an extended period.
  • Remote observing with DECam has been successfully tested from NOAO headquarters in Tucson, as well as from FermiLab and LBNL, and has been successfully used by the DES and DECaLS teams. We will be happy to provide information and guidance to survey teams interested in using existing remote-observing facilities, or in setting up remote observing-centers at their own institutions, as part of a survey program. Investigators should indicate any interest in this capability in their letters of intent.
  • Rapid automated pipeline processing of DECam data may be available for DECam surveys through an NOAO/NCOA partnership with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) leveraging pipelines and processing infrastructure in use at NCSA for DES ( Investigators should indicate any interest in this capability in their letters of intent.

Clarifications of Guidelines

Changes or clarifications to the guidelines for the survey program include the following:

  • Instruments or modes that have not been commissioned at the time of the call for proposals will not be available for surveys.
  • The nominal cap for the survey program is 20% of the telescope time, including commitments to ongoing surveys (but see special DECam considerations above). Survey time allocations will generally not be allowed to dominate the time with particular, desirable characteristics (dark time, times of year). Medium (3.5m-4.2m), and small (<3.5m) telescopes are considered separately. Survey allocations may exceed the cap for small telescopes if the overall oversubscription rate is low.
  • The maximum period over which survey observations are carried out is 3 years. An exception may be made for time-domain surveys that require longer time coverage.
  • The survey program proposal form is longer and somewhat different than the regular proposal form, and it includes questions about management plan and data distribution.
  • Proposals will be reviewed by a separate survey panel, prior to being considered by the merging TAC for inclusion into the ranked lists for the available telescopes. They will be evaluated on scientific merit, broader impact to society, credibility of management plan, data distribution plan, and the value of proposed deliverables to community. Separate grades in each of these areas will be combined to determine a final ranking.
    • Note that there are a variety of ways to address broader impact, the NSFs second criterion, including involvement of students or the inclusion of co-investigators from non-PhD-granting institutions.
    • Following recommendation for support by the NOAO TAC, NOAO may negotiate an agreement with successful proposers on a survey program’s data deliverables, the manner in which they will be distributed to the community, and the schedule for delivery.
  • It is imperative that proposers carefully and explicitly justify the number of nights requested, including allowance for integration time on program objects and calibration exposures, as well as the appropriate overheads. No increase for the expected weather statistics should be included. We intend to grant time that includes an increase based on statistical weather information that should allow most surveys to complete their observations. Surveys will be given one chance in their penultimate year to justify an additional supplemental allocation if they have suffered from technical problems at the telescope or weather significantly worse than average.

Additional Requirements for Survey Programs

A workshop will be held in Tucson for all approved programs each year. Survey teams awarded time will be expected to meet with one another and with NOAO or other staff, as appropriate.

Progress reports must also be submitted to the survey TAC annually. The survey TAC will review all progress reports and may recommend changes in the allocations to previously approved programs. Proposers will have the opportunity to appeal any changes recommended by the survey TAC.

Mia Hartman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
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