Observing Proposal project
situation: the Director of Kitt Peak Observatory has announced
that there will be several nights of "Director's Discretionary
Time" available on the telescopes over the next 12 months. Time is
available on two telescopes, while equipped in imaging mode:
- The Kitt Peak 4m: 4 nights using the CCD
- 8196x8196 CCD with 0.26 arcsec pixels and a
field of view 35.4 arcmin on a side.
- Exposure time
calculator (from the "KPNO Instrument" drop-down, pick
"4-m: PF CCD Mosaic Imager" (at the top
of the list)
Your task is to write an observing proposal to use
one (or both) of these facilities to do some science.
- The WIYN 0.9m: 7 nights using the HDI imaging
Things to consider:
- 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.
- 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
- any topic
you may be researching in real life (senior project, grad
Note on using the exposure time calculator:
- 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 20% 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 at reasonably high elevations (secz>1.5)
- If you are studying a sample of objects, how
many do you need to study, and why? When is the best time to
The exposure time
calculator assumes you are doing photometry of individual stars,
i.e., point sources. So it works well for giving you an estimate
of exposure time to image a star of a given total magnitude. So
if you are doing a project involving photometry of individual
stars, you must use the exposure time calculators.
But if you are looking at extended sources (like galaxies, which
are spread over many pixels), the calculation will give you the
wrong answer. If you want to measure a large object down
to a given limiting surface brightness (in mag/arcsec^2) -- for
example, measure the surface brightness of a nearby galaxy, it's
more complicated, and the calculator can't handle it. So, for
extended sources, you can do one of two things to estimate
Marginally resolved sources: if your galaxies are
very small (a few arcsec across, like galaxies in a high
redshift cluster), just treat them like point sources -- use
their total magnitudes and run the calculator like you would on
stars, but set the seeing to be sqrt(seeing^2 + angular size^2).
- Estimate it by previous studies. Find a similar project
in the literature that uses the same class of telescope and the same filters as your
project, and gets to the
accuracy that you need. Adopt their exposure times.
- Kludge it. What is the surface brightness limit you
need to reach? With that surface brightness, work out the
magnitude of a 10x10 arcsec patch. Then enter that magnitude
into the expsoure time calculator, and enter 10" for the
seeing (and aperture). This will get you in the right
ballpark, as long as you don't go fainter than ~ 27
These kludges are pretty
crude, so if you are doing an exposure time calculation for an
extended source, check in with me to make sure you're getting
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!
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 (two pages, single spaced. 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.
Figures and References (a page or two max):
- Your reference list is not part of your
- Its often helpful to have a couple of figures
which illustrate the particular point you are trying to get
across. Examples of data already taken (by you or others),
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.
- Coordinates (if you are observing a specific
object), or ranges of coordinates (if you are conducting a
survey of objects)
- Justification for the choice of telescope
- Justification for the allocation request
(signal-to-noise considerations, exposure times, time of year,
Proposal Review Criteria
- Writing, spelling, grammar, formatting ALL
COUNT. Pay attention to detail. Proofread, spell-check, etc. A
sloppily written proposal will get tanked in the review
- The proposal should be word-processed, not
handwritten, and it should be single-spaced.
- Your proposal will not only be graded by me,
but also "peer-reviewed" by your classmates.
Possible Projects (the list
- Finding the distance, age, and metallicity of
a Milky Way globular cluster via isochrone fitting
- Studying the properties of galaxies in
- Studying the distances to a sample of Milky
Way satellite galaxies using tip of the red giant branch
- Searching for variable stars in globular
clusters or satellite galaxies
- Studying the properties of the globular
cluster systems around other galaxies
- Studying the chemical composition of Kuiper
Belt objects (or asteroids) through their colors.
- Age dating open star clusters in the Milky Way
- Searching for high redshift galaxies around