situation: the National Observatory has announced that there will
be several nights of "Director's Discretionary Time" available on
various telescopes over the next 12 months. Time is available at
two observatories, Kitt Peak National Observatory (in Arizona) and
Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory (in Chile). At each
observatory, there are two telescopes available for time: a
4-meter telescope and a 0.9-meter telescope. In all cases, only
imaging time is available (no spectroscopy), and the detectors are
4-m telescopes: 8196x8196 CCD with 0.26 arcsec pixels and a field
of view 35.4 arcmin on a side.
0.9-m telescopes: 4096x4096 CCD with 0.43 arcsec pixels and a field of view 29.2 arcmin
on a side.
Your task is to write an observing proposal to use one (or both)
of these facilities to do some science.
You propose for one scientific project.
You proposal must ask for at least one full
night of observing.
You can apply for at most two observing runs
during the year to complete the project.
You can ask for time on both
telescopes, but they must be different runs.
Things to consider:
Pick an interesting scientific question. If you are having trouble choosing on a topic, there
are a few possibilities at the bottom of this page. Note: You cannot pick these
the surface brightness and color profile of a nearby
for AGN in clusters, or
you may be researching in real life (senior project, grad
What imaging data do you need to conduct your
study (what filters do you need, how bright are your objects,
how big of an area of the sky do you need to cover)?
What signal-to-noise do you need for your
data? (The best you can do
with photometry is probably about 0.02 mags -- if you need
better accuracy than this, your project isn't viable.)
How much observing time would you need? (Use
the exposure time calculator to estimate this). Add 35% to the
expected exposure times to account for overhead (reading out
the CCD, moving telescope, taking calibration data, etc).
Note on exposure times:
If you get exposure times that are less than
~ 5 minutes, that means you are looking at very bright
objects that don't need such a big telescope (and your
proposal would be rejected). If you get this on the 4m, try
the 0.9m telescope. If you get this on the 0.9m telescope,
think about fainter objects.
If you get exposure times greater than 20
minutes, break your observations down into shorter
exposures. So for example, if you need an exposure time of 2
hours, break that up into 6 exposures of 20 minutes each.
If your object is too big to fit in the field
of view of the telescope, do you only study a portion of it
(with long exposures), or a cover it with many shorter
If you are studying a single object, make sure
the object is visible for your observations! Objects should
only be observed when they are reasonably high in the sky
(altitudes above that corresponding to an airmass of
sec(z)=1.5 or so.)
If you are studying a sample of objects, how
many do you need to study, and why? When is the best time to
Proposal Structure and Format
Note: the page
length descriptions by section are different from what you see
in the example proposals. Follow the instructions here!
The proposal should be written single-spaced in 12 point font
with 1 inch margins. Page length guidelines follow this format.
Cover Page (one page maximum):
Note: Do NOT include your name! We are going
to do a double-blind review, so names should not be attached
An abstract describing your science
A summary of the observations: how many
nights, what time of year
Scientific Justification (one page). If you're writing less than
this, you're not being thorough; if you're writing more, you're
not editing yourself well.):
Explain the background: why the science is
important, what we want to learn.
Pose a scientific question that you are trying
Explain how the observations you propose will
answer your question. What will you do with the data? There
should be some interpretive/comparative component to your
Remember that your audience is astronomers,
but not necessarily a specialist in your field. You may be
explaining quasar spectroscopy to somebody who images
planetary nebulae for a living, for example. So you need to
convince them that your science is interesting.
PROPER ACADEMIC REFERENCING IS REQUIRED. Poor
referencing practices is a sure sign of a poorly written or
poorly researched project. See the example proposal for the
Figures and References (a page or two max):
Your reference list should follow the style of
the example proposals, and should have a dozen or so
references that support the statements made in the proposal.
It is usually best to include a couple of
figures which illustrate the particular point you are trying
to get across. They could show examples of data already taken
(by you or others), or plots that show a relationship you are
trying to test, etc.
Technical Description of Observations (one page):
Description of the object you are observing
(size, magnitude, etc). If you have a large sample of objects,
give some characteristic examples. If you are observing a
variety of objects, describe how you chose those objects (why
are they in your sample?). Similarly, if you are imaging many
fields of a single object, how are you deciding on those
fields? (center of the target vs outskirts? or are you trying
to map the whole things?)
Coordinates (if you are observing a specific
object), or ranges of coordinates (if you are conducting a
survey of objects)
Explanation of which filters
you are using and why.
Justification for the choice of telescope
Justification for the allocation request
(signal-to-noise considerations, exposure times, time of year,
Writing, spelling, grammar, formatting are ALL
important. Pay attention to detail. Proofread, spell-check,
etc. A sloppily written proposal will not do well in the
Your proposal will not only be graded by me,
but also "peer-reviewed" by your classmates.