Observing at Lowell Observatory

The Discovery Channel Telescope, Happy Jack, AZ

The Discovery Channel Telescope, Happy Jack, AZ

Through a partnership with Lowell Observatory, Boston University researchers and educators may propose to use the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) in Happy Jack, AZ, as well as the 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope, 1.1-meter Hall Telescope, and the 0.8-meter NURO Telescope located on Anderson Mesa, AZ.  All BU faculty, research scientists, postdocs and graduate students are eligible to propose.  Affiliation with the Institute for Astrophysical Research (IAR) is not required.

Proposals are due quarterly and judged on their scientific and/or educational merit by a local telescope time allocation committee (TAC).  The IAR director presents the committee’s recommended allocations to Lowell Observatory schedulers, who negotiate resolutions of any time conflicts with the IAR director.  Time on the telescopes is allocated in nights, with the option of half-nights on the DCT.  For information on the telescopes and available instrumentation, please visit the following websites:

Preparing a Proposal
Proposers must fill out a cover sheet containing all requirements for observations and a scientific and technical summary, detailing the scientific and/or educational merit.  The scientific and technical summary may not exceed two pages of text with a minimum 11-point font, with additional pages for figures and tables as needed.  It should include a list of objects and coordinates or, if many objects are involved, a description of the target sample.  If your proposal is a continuation of one selected for a previous quarter, you may submit a short progress report and a list of publications resulting from the project instead of a full proposal.

Be advised, BU and Lowell Observatory schedule nights by calendar date at the start of the night, and not UT date.  The dates of observations listed on the cover sheet are assumed to be calendar dates and not UT dates.  Quarterly, the IAR director will email the cover sheet and details regarding proposals with applicable deadlines to announce@skynet.bu.edu.

Before you Propose: Telescope Options
Boston University has contracted for 40 nights per year (40% dark-moon time, 40% bright-moon time, and 20% gray-moon time) on the DCT for use by BU personnel.  DCT nights can be exchanged for nights on the 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope at a ratio of 18 Perkins nights per DCT night.  Similarly, significant numbers of nights are also available on the Hall 1.1-meter and NURO 0.8-meter telescopes by exchange of DCT nights.  When proposing, consider whether your scientific and/or educational objectives can be met with a smaller-aperture telescope, since more time is generally available on the latter.  The appropriateness of the proposed telescope is considered when ranking and allocating nights.

BU Graduate Students with the 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope.

BU Graduate Students with the 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope.

Before you Propose: Remote Observing
BU astronomers typically travel to Arizona to conduct observations.  However, remote observing may be available for observations with the LMI on the DCT, provided that the user has previously observed with the telescope successfully in-person.  Remote observing requests should be indicated on the cover sheet of the proposal. If the proposal is approved, Lowell Observatory will determine whether they can support remote observing. The Perkins and Hall telescopes require in-person observing and prior certification (see below on certification).  The 0.8-meter NURO telescope is remotely operable and can be scripted.  If remote or scripted observations are requested with the NURO telescope, this should be indicated on the cover sheet.

If Your Proposal is Successful: Lodging Options

The Mars Hill Lodge on Lowell's campus in Flagstaff and the Giovale-Millis Lodge in Happy Jack, near the DCT.

The Mars Hill Lodge on Lowell’s campus in Flagstaff and the Giovale-Millis Lodge in Happy Jack, near the DCT.

If telescope time is awarded and remote observing is undesirable or unavailable, consider your lodging options.  Lowell Observatory maintains two lodges on their main campus in Flagstaff (the Chalet and Mars Hill Lodge) and one in Happy Jack, closer to the DCT (Giovale-Millis Lodge):


Rooms in the lodges are significantly less expensive than hotels.  They contain kitchens for cooking meals and preparing night lunches, and the rooms have blackout shades to aid with sleeping during the day.  If you decide to stay at one of the houses, reserve your room as soon as possible to avoid a reservation conflict:


Lodgers must be respectful of fellow residents, who may be on a day or night schedule, and are required to follow all posted instructions concerning internet use, clean up and check out.  Lodgers must clean up common areas after use and may not sleep in common areas.  To avoid being charged for an extra night, remove your belongings from your room by 13:00 local time.  You must also list a departure time earlier than 13:00 when making the reservation online in order to avoid being charged.  Lodging charges should be paid prior to departure following instructions provided with the lodging reservation confirmation.  IAR/CSP administrative staff can arrange for direct payment of lodging expenses using external grants.

Arranging Travel
If your observing run is funded by an IAR or CSP grant, book your travel using a T-Card or using the IAR Travel Request Form.  BU astronomers typically fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), then take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff.  It is also possible to book a connecting flight to the Flagstaff airport (FLG).  The IAR maintains two vehicles in Flagstaff for use during observing runs.  You may need to pick up the car keys from the IAR/CSP office (CAS 514) before you leave.  Insurance coverage for the BU vehicles stationed in Flagstaff is valid for BU employees or students with a valid driver’s license.  To ensure proper reimbursement, keep all receipts and boarding passes related to your travel.

Certification on the 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope

The 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope at Anderson Mesa, AZ

The 1.8-meter Perkins Telescope at Anderson Mesa, AZ

For safety reasons, BU requires 1.8-meter Perkins users to become certified before operating the telescope alone.  The two instruments on the Perkins Telescope, PRISM and Mimir, have unique safety concerns and require separate certification.  If requesting time on Mimir, make arrangements with Professor Dan Clemens to be certified.  Uncertified users may not operate these instruments on the telescope, and it is their responsibility to arrange to become certified prior to their proposed observing time.

Before You Go!
Prepare backup science or education programs for times when primary science targets are unobservable or if the seeing and/or transparency conditions prevent the primary program from being executed, but could be used for a secondary program.  Observers are encouraged to contact other department members for secondary programs.

If you are observing on the DCT, a Lowell Observatory astronomer will contact you at least 2 weeks before your run to discuss logistics.  You should respond promptly.

Publicizing DCT-related Results
Discovery Communications, Inc., having contributed substantially to the cost of the telescope, reserves the right to publicize discoveries made with the DCT. Because of this, any findings with DCT data that a BU astronomer considers worthy of publicity should be brought to the attention of Lowell Observatory.  Any interest expressed by the media in a BU discovery that used the DCT should be shared with Lowell Observatory.

In practice, any discoveries made with the BU time on the DCT should be brought to the attention of the IAR Director, who will coordinate with Lowell Observatory.

 Useful Links: