Steward Observatory
University of Arizona Observatories

Guidelines for Observing

Useful Addresses & Phone Numbers


Guidelines for Observing

Check-out Procedures at the UAO Telescopes

It is important for the safe and efficient use of the telescopes that observers be adequately instructed in good observing practices and in the specific operation of those telescopes that they may wish to use. Only a brief check-out may be needed for an observer who has had considerable experience elsewhere. A novice should expect to accompany an experienced observer for a number of nights to gain experience, as well as specific knowledge, before he or she seeks to be checked out for unaccompanied observing. It is particularly important that those who are preparing to use the telescopes take care to develop adequate experience as a basis for the judgment necessary to ensure the safe use of those facilities, since assistance at night is not normally available. Similar check-out is required for use of observatory instrumentation. A list of persons authorized to use each of the telescopes and observatory instruments is maintained at the Observatory Operations Office. The Deputy Director has been assigned authority to add or remove names from these list; the Operations Manager has the responsibility to maintain these lists. Current lists of instrument/telescope Certifiers (individuals who are qualified to certify new observers) can be found from the Web home pages of the various telescopes. Procedures for check-out are as follows.

KITT PEAK: A new observer should make arrangements for qualification well in advance with the Cognizant Observer or Mountain Operations. Please ensure that the Cognizant Observer and Operations Manager are informed that check-out has been completed in writing. Lists of check-out procedures can be obtained from Mountain Operations and can be found on various web sites.

 The 90-inch telescope is the largest instrument operated solely by Steward Observatory and is maintained as a first-class research facility. It is essential that a certified observer be on premises during nighttime hours unless weather is so bad that travel is hazardous or an equipment failure prevents observing altogether. Even in such cases, an observer's absence must be cleared with the Operations Manager or the Site Supervisor. Weather fronts can clear as quickly as they arrive, and the Observatory expects that its major facilities will be used to their greatest extent.

CATALINAS: For check-out in the use of the telescopes at the two Catalina sites, please consult the Cognizant Observer or Mountain operations and make the necessary arrangements with the appropriate person for check-out. As with the 90-inch telescope, these telescopes are operated without night assistants, so careful observance of the instructions and procedures is of great importance. Again, please inform the Cognizant Observer and Operations Manager in writing once check-out has been completed.

 INSTRUMENTATION: Authorization for the use of specific instrumentation must also be obtained by arrangement with the Cognizant Observer or Mountain Operations. Check-out generally requires one or two nights of practice with a qualified observer. The Operations Manager will be responsible for maintaining the authorized users' list.

Arrangements for check-out must be made well in advance of the scheduled run. ALLOCATION OF OBSERVING TIME BY THE SCHEDULING COMMITTEE DOES NOT IMPLY CERTIFICATION FOR OBSERVING. TELESCOPE TIME WILL BE FORFEITED IF THE OBSERVER HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED. It is the sole responsibility of the observer to see that he/she has been properly checked out in advance of this first independently scheduled observing run.

Telescope Operations Procedures

Certain meteorological conditions can present a hazard to windscreens, shutters, optical parts of telescopes, computers, or electronic control systems. In such conditions observing must be suspended, domes closed and electrical and electronic systems disconnected.

At the observatories, the responsibility for telescope operations rests with the observer. If in doubt, please err on the side of caution.

The following guidelines for shutdown should be applied with common sense and judgment to ensure that safe limits are not exceeded.

HIGH WINDS. Strong and gusty winds pose a threat to windscreens and also carry dust, sand, and snow that threaten the condition of optical surfaces. Do not work into a wind of steady velocity or frequent gusts exceeding 40 mph (35 at Catalina's). Operations downwind should cease when the wind velocity exceeds 45 mph (40 at Catalina's), or when there are frequent gusts of such velocity. Lower wind velocities may require shutdown if the dust content of the air is substantial. Fresh snow blowing off nearby trees poses a special hazard at the Catalina telescopes. A great deal of noise from buffeting of the windscreens, or pronounced shaking of the telescope, should be recognized as a warning signal no matter what the anemometer may read.

HUMIDITY. If there appears to be imminent danger of fog in the near vicinity of the telescope dome, or if there is any sign of condensation inside the dome or on parts of the shutter from which moisture could fall onto the telescope, operations should be suspended and the dome closed. In general, an increasing humidity near 90% RH precipitates such a condition and is recognized as the value that requires dome closure. In no circumstances should optical parts be permitted to become fogged or frosted, or water or snow be permitted to fall upon them. If observing has been carried on in conditions of very high humidity, it may be necessary to take steps after closing to prevent the formation of fog or frost on cold optical parts, such as using dry air lines from the telescope base to instrument, or using bottled dry nitrogen on accessible optics. The Instrument Specialist or Site Resident can give more details.

RAIN, SNOW, OR OTHER ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS. In threatening weather conditions, it is the responsibility of the observer to ensure that the dome is closed early enough to prevent damage to the telescope and equipment. Weather conditions on mountains can change very quickly, and the observer should be constantly aware of outside conditions at all times.

ELECTRICAL STORMS. If electrical storms occur close by, the dome must be closed (to guard against the possibility that power failure could prevent closing it later as conditions become even more severe), and electrical and electronic equipment, particularly computers, must be turned off and unplugged.

 In many cases, it is necessary to open the electrical disconnect switches serving instrument, computer, and dome power systems. GUIDELINE: IF YOU CAN HEAR THE THUNDER, IT IS TIME TO CLOSE DOWN.

 SMOKE: Smoke from forest fires (mainly in the Catalina's) can also lead to damage of the telescope optics. Close the dome and turn off ventilation fans as soon as you are aware of any such problem. Immediately notify the Forest Service, if no one answers, call the Emergency Services number. The Site Resident or the Operations Manager should then be notified. Stow the telescope and cover all optical surfaces.

Changes to the Telescope or User Equipment

Much observing time can be lost if a telescope or instrument configuration has been changed from its normal state by a previous observer. In some cases, a program can be wiped out. Therefore, only reversible changes may be made by the observer to the telescopes or associated user equipment. A reversible change is such that the original equipment can be and IS restored to its original state after the observing run with minimum effort and danger to the equipment.

Operations staff must be informed of such changes before they are made. The staff have been requested to ensure that changes ARE reversed before the observer leaves. If there is any doubt on the part of the Operations staff about the reversibility of a change, they are instructed to prevent such changes until either the Operations Manager, the Deputy Director or the faculty member in charge of the specific piece of user instrumentation has been consulted and has given his approval.

Reporting of Equipment Malfunctions

The need for prompt and accurate reporting of equipment problems cannot be overemphasized. Failure to communicate adequate information to the right person will result in the next observer(s) experiencing similar or worse problems, possibly resulting in loss of observing time. For real emergency situations, call the Site Resident, Instrument Specialist (Kitt Peak), Operations Manager, Cognizant Observer, Technical Director, or the Deputy Director, in that order. At Kitt Peak, problems should be reported as soon as possible after their discovery to any Operations staff member present, and noted on the Operations Trouble Report. The observer must personally confirm that information recorded on the Operations Report is accurate and complete. The name of the person who initially discovered the problem should always be in the report so that he or she can be contacted for further information. The Operations staff will attempt to correct the problem by themselves, when possible, or they will make arrangements for repair through telephone communication with the appropriate members of the Technical Division or observer. The Operations Trouble Report (computer text file) should be completed whether or not there is trouble to report. The information reported allows the Observatory to maintain a weather and seeing database that is useful to the Observatory as well as all observers. In addition, a verbal trouble report summary can also be made using the telephone recorder system in the Operations office. These recordings, however, are not likely to be heard during weekends, when the written trouble reports become the important contact.

The observer should personally make sure that the problem encountered has been solved by the appropriate members of the observatory staff (i.e. that the system functions properly). This should be effected by working closely with the staff member and/or astronomer responsible for the instrument causing the problem -- and, if necessary, by seeking assistance from the for Operations Manager. The Site Resident is the first line of defense and will assist in ensuring that all required repairs/replacements have been carried out. The Operations Manager has the responsibility for coordinating action on Operations Reports with the Technical Division.

Coordination with Operations Staff Prior to Observing Runs

For observing at the 90-inch Bok and the 61-inch Kuiper telescopes, it is essential that observers contact the Operations Manager and the Kitt Peak Supervisor via the "Observer Request Form" sent to all scheduled observers before going to the mountain to check that all is in order and that the Operations staff understands their requirements. This should be done at the latest a week before the start of the observing run. The Observatory staff will help mount principal investigator's equipment on the telescope and balance the telescope, but a specific time for this activity should be set with the Operations Manager. Moreover, these tasks must be complete by 3:30 p.m.. Of course it is the observer's advantage to have the instrumentation installed and checked out as soon as possible--allowing time for troubleshooting should it be necessary. It may well be that the observers are requested to bring some necessary equipment or supplies to the mountain; they are asked to cooperate in this.

On the telescopes located on Mt. Lemmon, any observing program requiring special assistance, special equipment, or special attention to the condition of the telescope should be reported to observatory personnel as early as possible. In fact, a special section is included in the observing time request for noting such requirements. (Please note however, that Operations personnel will probably not review the time requests). In these situations, considerable initiative will be expected of the observer in view of the limited availability of observatory personnel.

Visiting observers from other institutions are requested to contact the Operations Manager or the Cognizant Observer as soon as they have been informed of their time allocation and in any case not later than three weeks before their run. Arrangements for check-out, materials, observing equipment, etc., can then be made in an appropriate manner.

Operations Staff Duties

The Operations staff and more specifically the Site Residents, have been asked to
  1. Ensure that the facilities are not misused and that the small number of necessary observing rules are obeyed.
  2. Assist observers in any way possible consistent with the safe operation of the telescope.
  3. Assist the Tucson based technical staff in every way possible to maintain the equipment in first-rate condition and ensure the smooth operation of the Observatory.
The Operations staff should be informed of any difficulties encountered by the observer. The Operations Division will attempt to rectify the problem themselves, or, if this is not possible, they will call in the appropriate assistance. Even if the Operations staff succeeds in correcting the problem, all but very minor problems should be reported to the Operations Manager. One easy method to accomplish this communication is to fill out the Observers Evaluation Form found in each telescope control room. The form should be delivered or mailed to the Tucson Operations office.

 AT THE KITT PEAK STATION: The Site Resident, the Instrumentation Specialist, and the Observatory Technician, under the direction of the Steward Observatory Kitt Peak Supervisor will assist observers in installing equipment and will carry out final balancing of the telescope. They will ensure that facility and instruments are in good condition and will transmit requests for assistance through the Operations Manager who will, in turn, coordinate those requests with the Technical Division staff. Observers are required to to complete the Operations Trouble Report each night.

AT THE CATALINA STATIONS: The Site Resident will assist the observer, by advance arrangement, in installing and balancing equipment on the telescope. He will make rounds each morning to check the condition of the several telescopes, verify site security, check the Operations Trouble Reports and make appropriate arrangements for repairs. As on Kitt Peak, the observers are required to to complete the Operations Trouble Report nightly.

Changes in Observing Schedules: TBS Time, Cancellations Due to Equipment Problems

The Operations Manager keeps a file of applications of persons wanting extra observing time during each quarter. The Scheduling Committee may also make recommendations about the allocation of TBS time to observers whose original requests for time could not be fully accommodated.

Assignments are made by the Director or his designee, and revised schedules are announced by the Operations Manager.

In case of unexpected astronomical events of sufficient importance, scheduled time may be pre-empted and reassigned by the Director.

Policy on Removing Equipment from One Telescope to Another, or to Downtown Laboratories and Shops

To minimize inconvenience to other observers and possible damage to equipment, observers and Technical Division members are requested not to remove equipment from the observatories unless this is unavoidable. If it is necessary to remove major items for scientific or maintenance reasons, they should check first with the Operations Manager, and inform the Site Resident (on the console chalkboard) and the Instrumentation Specialist to ensure that there will be no conflicts with scheduled observers.

A record is to be made in the equipment log whenever equipment is removed from a given site either by an observer or Technical Division staff. The record should include identification of what was removed, by whom, where it was taken, and when it will be returned. The observer/staff member concerned is responsible for returning the equipment as soon as possible.

The Site Resident will maintain an inventory of equipment available at each site and will ensure that equipment levels are maintained. Serious losses must be reported immediately to the Operations Manager who will give instructions for their replacement.

It is essential that all astronomers and staff members cooperate fully in ensuring that Observatory equipment is available, in first-class condition, when it is needed.

The technical staff will maintain appropriate test equipment which should be kept at the various sites for their own use. No observer should use or remove any of the test equipment without explicit approval of the Operations Manager or the Technical Director. As a courtesy, please notify other staff members by leaving a note on the white board.


Consideration for others requires that users of the dormitory facilities leave things in proper order, including dishes washed and put away, soiled linen removed to the proper container, and trash disposed of. Leftover food should be removed from the refrigerator at the conclusion of each observing run. The next person is not likely to use it, and someone will eventually have the most unpleasant job of getting rid of it.

Observers are expected not to need dormitory space until the day of the first night of their run and to vacate the dormitories the day after the last night of their run. It is assumed that no more than two dormitory rooms will be required for the duration of the run. Any additional needs for dormitory space must be arranged with the Operations Office.

Family members may accompany scheduled observers only if there is room and only with the explicit permission of the Cognizant Observer. Young children and pets should not be taken on observing runs. Partying is not permitted on the observatory premises.

On Kitt Peak, the 90-inch observers have priority concerning use of the downstairs bedrooms. Observers on other telescopes at Kitt Peak who plan to use the dormitory must first check with Mountain Operations to determine if space is available. Facilities can then be scheduled through the Operations Office. For observers not scheduled on Steward Observatory facilities a fee of $25.00 per night will be charged.


Kitt Peak Observers should generally expect to rent a University car on a grant-supported fund number, rent a commercial vehicle, or use a private vehicle. Observers without grants will be permitted to charge the car rental to Steward Observatory only with explicit approval of the Director (via Business Office). Occasionally, trips can be combined with other personnel going to the mountain, though it may mean an earlier departure. All reservations for the use of University cars should, if possible, be made through the Business Office. This is mandatory if the rental will be charged to Steward Observatory; failure to do so will mean you are charged personally. Please check for the correct FRS fund number for your grant if you are in doubt.

Reservations and Payment for Meals at the Kitt Peak Cafeteria

Reservations must be made for all meals eaten in the Kitt Peak dining room. Dinner reservations may be made through the electronic Observers Request Form, which should be submitted at least a week before the start of the observing run. Payment to Kitt Peak is made through the Steward Observatory Business Office in a lump sum payment each month. Each person who has charged meals or other services at Kitt Peak is to inform the Business Office concerning the FRS Account number to which expenses are to be charged (if applicable), or make payment by check to Steward Observatory within ten (10) working days of the billing date. Observers eating "night-lunches" from KPNO kitchen supplies must sign the meal log and pay for this service.

Visitors, Guests, and Observing Assistants

If you wish to be assisted at the telescope by a suitable qualified observer who is not employed at the University of Arizona, please inform the Operations Manager well in advance (for legal and insurance reasons). Only persons who have a definite role in obtaining observations, or who are being trained as observers, are permitted at the telescope during the night. Even so, no more than four observers may be present at a telescope at the same time without the explicit permission of the Cognizant Observer.

Visitor Instrumentation

Steward Observatory encourages the operation of visitor instrumentation on its telescopes. We find that we benefit considerably from a flow of instruments, frequently novel and with state-of-the-art performance, through our facilities.

We occasionally find that a visitor's run is hampered unnecessarily by a lack of familiarity with our procedures in providing support. Although we try to respond to emergencies whenever they occur, we have limited resources to support the telescopes and their users. In addition, many services simply cannot be arranged without advance warning -- opening additional dorm rooms, obtaining cryogens for cooling dewars, arranging meals at Kitt Peak are examples. To help visitors get the most from their runs, we have put forward the following guidelines:

Visitors to the Multiple Mirror Telescope should contact the MMTO directly for information.

 Visitors should arrange for their own transportation and that of their equipment to the telescopes and for the duration of their runs. Road conditions at Mt. Bigelow (61-inch) and Mt. Lemmon (60-inch and 40-inch) can be bad during the winter, any time from November through April.

Visitors are expected to unpack and set up their instrumentation; it is very difficult to divert Observatory staff to assist with these tasks. Observatory staff will help visitors mount their equipment on the telescopes and balance the telescopes, but a specific time for this activity should be set with the Operations Manager. Moreover, these tasks must be completed by 3:30 p.m.

At the ends of their runs, visitors should remove their equipment from the telescope, break it down, and pack it. We expect the telescopes to be vacated by 1:00 p.m. of the afternoon of the day following the run so that the next observers can install their equipment.

Equipment must conform to a standard configuration of the telescope -- e.g., bolt circle, back focus distance, electrical interfaces. Details of the mechanical configurations can be obtained from the Operations Manager; electronic interfaces should be discussed with the Technical Director. If an instrument needs a range of parameters not required by our own instrumentation -- for example, an extreme back focus distance -- it may take some time to make necessary measurements to see if the requirement can be met. Such questions should be directed to the Operations Manager. In particular, last minute modifications of the telescopes to make them compatible with visitor instrumentation are forbidden; please don't ask.

Visitors should bring their own supplies (i.e. flashlights, alarm clocks, etc.), tools, and warm clothes. The telescopes are equipped only with minimal sets of hand tools and low grade oscilloscopes. Visitors should be prepared to carry out maintenance and repair of their equipment; our supplies at the remote facilities are limited--any use of the inventory must be arranged with the Operations Manager. At the 90-inch, meals can be purchased from Kitt Peak; however, reservations must be made with the Business Office at least four days before the first meal will be required. Food at the other telescopes is strictly on a bring-your-own basis.

Emergencies will happen. For small problems, visitors can seek help from any accessible staff member. "Small" means requiring no more than 30 minutes for solution. For larger problems, and so that other essential tasks at the observatories are not unnecessarily interfered with, help should be arranged through the Operations Manager. In all cases that a staff member is asked to run errands in Tucson, it must be cleared with the Operations Manager.

Our staff lives on appreciation as much as bread and water. Please acknowledge any special support both on the spot and in any publications resulting from work at our observatories. We are always interested in how a visitor's run has gone. Please let us know by the end of your time what you have learned and also whether you have any suggestions for improving our facilities or our support. An Observing Run Evaluation form is available at the telescopes to aid with feedback regarding the level of support and facility condition.

HTML Version of December 2, 1997; Revised November 7, 2013