Observing Constraints and Classification Rules

General Observing Constraints

Every requested observation has multiple observing constraints. Typical observing constraints are:

  • the allowable brightest lunar phase
  • the allowable smallest moon-to-object angular separation
  • the allowable maximum airmass
  • the allowable maximum image size (i.e. FWHM at observed wavelength, 'image quality' )
  • the allowable sky transparency
  • for CRIRES, NACO and SINFONI, the Strehl ratio on the reference star.
  • for instruments observing in the mid-IR (CRIRES and VISIR), the allowable maximum Precipitable Water Vapour (PWV)
  • the allowable twilight constraint that defines the earliest time in minutes with respect to the end of the astronomical twilight when the execution of the OB can be started
  • the allowable absolute time window (i.e. for time critical events, multi-epoch monitoring)
  • the allowable local sidereal time range (e.g. for ADI observation)
  • for VLTI instruments, the availability of the desired baseline

The Observing Constraints are specified by the user at Phase 2 for each Observation Block. Since the execution conditions required by each programme are an important ingredient in the process of building up the Long Term Schedule of an observing semester, and thus determines which programmes can or cannot be scheduled, users are not allowed to specify at Phase 2 constraints that are more strict than those specified in the original proposal. Users can however relax the constraints during the submission of their Phase 2 material. The values in the OB constraint sets that are selected (and approved) during Phase 2 preparation (and review) cannot be changed later during the observing period.

General Classification Rules

Quality Control of OBs executed in Service Mode will be based on the user's specified constraints for airmass, atmospheric transparency, seeing (i.e. image quality), moon constraints, as well as Strehl ratio for Adaptive Optics mode observations.

Note: the seeing constraint as defined in the OB is judged against the full width at half maximum (FWHM) of a point source in the resulting image (or spectral image), i.e. at the observed wavelength, for most of the VLT instruments (i.e. it is the image quality).

Additional Observing Constraints and Classification Rules for VISIR

Quality Control of OBs executed in service mode will be mainly based on airmass and seeing constraints as well as PWV measurements and sensitivity estimates obtained from standard star observations during the observing night.

Optical seeing will be used to classify the seeing constraint requested in the observing proposal for a specific OB. The resulting image quality in the mid-infrared image is better than the optical seeing. As a rule of thumb, optical seeing between 0.6-0.8" will result in diffraction limited images in the N and Q band. A measured image quality of 0.3"(~10μm) and 0.6"(~20μm) will always satisfy the seeing constraint.

Atmospheric classification like PHO/CLR/THN/THK are not necessarily related to the photometric stability and sensitivity in the mid-infrared. The main guideline to classify a specific OB will be therefore based on photometric observations of mid-infrared standard stars, frequently monitored during the night. The sensitivities guaranteed by the observatory are listed in the corresponding section of the VISIR instrument page. The OB will be considered fully within constraints regarding sensitivity if an observation of a standard star at zenith in the same filter as the service OB results in an equal or better limiting flux as published ("grade A"). If the limiting flux obtained with standard stars exceeds the published sensitivities in the same filter by not more than 10%, the OB will be considered as "grade B", while the OB will be classified as "grade C" in all other cases. An analog classification scheme will be applied for spectroscopic observations.

Moon constraints are usually irrelevant in the mid-infrared and are not taken into account for the classification of the OB. Telescope guiding and active optics can, however, under certain circumstances be compromised for moon distances <30deg.

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