Time on the Keck Telescopes
What is the value of a night observing on the Keck Telescopes? Dr. Paul Butler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C, admits that he recently turned down an invitation to the White House in order to spend the night observing at Keck Observatory. Time on the Keck Telescopes is highly prized, and the process to earn half a night, a full night, or a few nights of Keck Telescope time is extremely competitive.
The University of California and the California Institute of Technology, Keck’s partner institutions, are each allocated roughly one-third of the available nights. The remaining one-third of the nights is divided amongst NASA, the University of Hawai`i (the land manager of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve), the Observatory Director, internal engineering and maintenance, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s (NOAO) Telescope System Instrumentation Program (TSIP). Through TSIP, NOAO investments in new instrumentation for Keck Observatory are traded for a specified number of observing nights. The pool of potential observers is clearly much larger than the time available.
The Observatory strives to ensure that the process of allocating time maximizes the scientific productivity of the world’s largest telescopes. The telescope schedules are produced twice a year through a careful series of steps overseen by Keck’s Observing Support Coordinator, Barbara Schaefer. The telescope schedules are not computer-generated, but rather finely tweaked by hand, by Schaefer. It is fair to say that the Observatory’s scheduling system works, since the scientific output of Keck Observatory is unparalleled in the world today. Read more about the process the Observatory uses to allocate time on the Keck Telescopes, as explained by Keck’s scheduling guru Barbara Schaefer, by clicking the Learn More button.