Service Mode Rules and Recommendations for Observation Blocks

Preparing Observation Blocks

Both Visitor and Service Mode programmes are carried out at all ESO telescopes by executing Observation Blocks (OBs) provided by the users. OBs are constructed and submitted to ESO using the Phase 2 Proposal Preparation (P2PP) tool for UT1, UT3, UT4, VLTI and La Silla instruments. In Period 89 VISTA, VST and UT2 instruments users have to prepare the OBs using the new P2PP version 3 (P2PP3) Tool.

Please refer to the P2PP version 2 User Manual (or P2PP3 User Manual) and to the User Manuals of the different instruments for more specific information on the structure and contents of OBs, and how to build OBs for different instruments. A number of tutorials describing step-by-step the construction of OBs for different instruments is available.

Service Mode OBs: rules and advices

It is important to keep in mind the Service Mode policies and the following rules and guidelines when designing a Service Mode programme or when preparing a Phase 2 package:

  • Some observing strategies cannot be supported in Service Mode; in particular, real-time decisions about the sequencing of OBs, complex OB sequencing, or decisions based on the outcome of previously executed OBs (like adjustment of integration times or execution of some OBs instead of others).
  • OBs are only executed once. If you want to repeat an identical observation multiple times, you must submit multiple OBs. This requirement applies to standard stars as well.
  • OBs are normally executed non-contiguously. Since efficient Service Mode operations require continuous flexibility to best match the OB constraints with actual observing conditions, OBs for a given programme are normally scheduled non-contiguously. Therefore, users should not expect their OBs to be executed on a specific sequence or in a linked way, unless a sound scientific justification (to be approved with a Phase 2 Waiver and indicated in the README file) exists. Exceptions to this rule are cases in which one OB observing a calibrations source needs to be executed contiguously to a science OB. In Period 89 on VISTA, VST and UT2 instruments it is possible to put OBs into a concatenation scheduling container to enforce their contiguous execution.
  • Multi-mode, multi-configuration OBs are normally not permitted in Service Mode. Although multiple configurations within one OB may sometimes reduce overheads, scheduling and calibrating such OBs is extremely inefficient and can increase the calibration load to an unsustainable level. Examples of such multi-configuration OBs are those combining imaging and spectroscopy in a single OB, spectroscopy with multiple grisms or central wavelength settings, or imaging with a large number of filters (although most imagers allow multiple broadband filters in one OB). Multi-configuration OBs are accepted only if duly justified and authorized by means of a Phase 2 Waiver Request.
  • OB execution times must be below 1 hour. Long OBs are more difficult to schedule and execute within the specified constraints because of the unpredictable evolution of the observing conditions. For this reason,OBs taking more than one hour to execute time are accepted by ESO only in exceptional cases and provided that a Phase 2 Waiver Request is submitted and approved. In such cases, ESO will consider the OB successfully executed if the constraints were fulfilled during the first hour of execution, even if conditions degrade after that time.
  • For UT2, VST and VISTA users in Period 89: concatenation scheduling container execution time must be below 1 hour. Only in exceptional cases, and provided that a Phase 2 Waiver Request is submitted and approved, concatenations longer than 1 hour may be submitted. In such cases, ESO will consider the concatenated OBs successfully executed if the constraints were fulfilled during the first hour of execution, even if conditions degrade after that time.
  • User-provided calibration OBs that need to be executed contiguously with science OBs need to be indicated in the User comments entry of the relevant science OBs for UT1, UT3, UT4 and VLTI instruments. For UT2, VISTA and VST instruments such contiguous execution of OBs needs to be specified via concatenation scheduling container.
  • Time constraints must be indicated in the OBs. If you intend to observe time-critical events or monitor a target at specific time windows, you need to indicate this under the Time Intervals tab of the OBs. This information needs to be provided also in the corresponding section of the README file. Specifying time windows as broad as possible will reduce the possibilities that your OBs are not executed because of higher priority programmes or because the external conditions did not allow the observations during the interval that you specified.
  • Specify the weakest possible Constraint Set values. OBs that can be executed under a broad range of conditions are easier to schedule, especially if they belong to priority groups B or C. In particular, if photometry is needed of a field, it is normally sufficient to obtain a short integration under photometric conditions (transparency = PHO) and carry out the rest of the integration with OBs having a transparency = CLR constraint.

Additional Service Mode Requirements for VISIR

VISIR is offered in the following two basic instrument modes:

IMA  imaging 
SPEC  long-slit and cross-dispersed spectroscopy

Imaging is available for two (observations in April 2012: 19.2'x19.2' and 32.3'x32.3') or three (from September 2012 onwards: 36'x36', 60'x60' and 96'x96') field of views for various broad and narrow band filters in the N- and Q-band. Long-slit spectroscopy is offered in low-, medium-, and high-resolution for specific central wavelength settings in the N- and Q- bands. Cross-dispersed spectroscopy is offered for specific central wavelength settings in the N- and Q-band.

Refer to the VISIR instrument page which configurations, filters, scales, slits and central wavelengths are offered in detail.

For VISIR, imaging OBs executed in service-mode may have a maximum of five filters in a single OB without the need to submit a waiver request. However, it is not permitted to mix N- and Q-band filters within one OB. OBs that deviate from these general rules are accepted only if duly justified and authorized by means of a Phase 2 Waiver Request.

Imaging in burst-mode, coronography and the sparse-aperture masking observing mode are offered in visitor-mode only. Apart from this, all VISIR modes are fully supported in visitor- and service-mode.

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