Using the Tim Liu (GRS ’86, ’90) Astronomical Observing Center

The Tim Liu (GRS ’86, ’90) Astronomical Observing Center (LAOC) is a remote observing facility located in room 414 of the College of Arts and Sciences Building.  Funds for LAOC were generously provided by alum Dr. Tianxing “Tim” Liu, who received his MA and PhD from the BU Department of Astronomy.  Please see the following site for pictures from the gifting ceremony:

LAOC contains a Windows machine (, typically used for video conferencing with an observatory, three iMacs (,,, typically used for remotely operating instrument control software via screen sharing, and a 4 TB RAID array for temporarily storing data (, mountable by any of the computers.

If observing using Lowell Observatory telescopes, please see the site Observing at Lowell for instructions on requesting remote observations in your proposal to the IAR Telescope Allocation Committee.  Otherwise, please coordinate with the corresponding observatory to arrange for remote observations.  LAOC is designed to support many different telescopes, and conflicts may arise.

  • Please reserve LAOC as soon as a remote observing session is approved by using the BU Exchange Calendar, via Microsoft Outlook or the Outlook Web App.  Create an appointment in the calendar for the time you will need the facility, including an invitation to If you have trouble making a reservation, please send an email request to David Bradford (
  • If this is the first time you are using LAOC, please contact Quinn Sykes prior to your observations to be granted key card access (, CAS 520, 617-353-5700).

Communicating with an Observatory

LAOC observers typically use the Windows computer to communicate with observatory telescope operators via Skype.  The Windows computer is connected to a 55″ monitor located on the west side of the room.

  • Use the SONY remote control to power on the large 55” monitor.
  • Log onto the Windows Machine using the following credentials:

Username:                                                         [removed for online version]

Password:                                                          [removed for online version]

  • Once logged on, start Skype (icon on the desktop) and use the following credentials to log onto Skype:

Skype Username:                                                         [removed for online version]

Skype Password:                                                          [removed for online version]

Several known observatory telescope operators are listed on the left-hand-side of the Skype panel, including IRTF and DCT.  To call, simply double click the respective telescope operator and choose “video call.”  The microphone, camera and speaker for the Windows machine are routed through a Logitec unit, sitting next to the windows keyboard.  Once a Skype session has started, you may control the volume, direct the camera and mute the microphone using controls on the Logitec unit or using the Logitec remote control.  Observers typically drag the video to the 55″ screen.

Screen Sharing with an Observatory

Typically, single observers use the center iMac (liu-2) to screenshare with a computer at the location of the observatory.  The center iMac contains three monitors, one of which is wall mounted.  The credentials for the iMacs are the same as for the Windows machine.  Lowell Observatory requires that users first start a virtual private network (VPN) connection in order to start a screen sharing session.

  • Click the   Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 11.04.36 AM  icon in the top right of the right-most iMac screen, then click “Connect to Lowell VPN”.  

For Discovery Channel Telescope observations, Apple’s Remote Desktop application is the preferred method for controlling the computers.

  • Start Remote Desktop by clicking the   Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 11.06.41 AM  icon at the bottom of the iMac screen.
  • Connect to the DCT control computer by highlighting Baggins, then click the control icon Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 11.08.00 AM on Remote Desktop.
  • To view either only one of the 2 screens on Baggins, toggle between the Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 4.17.23 AM icons located on the top of the screen.  Observers typically only view one screen of Baggins, rather than both.

To transfer files to and from the remote machine in Remote Desktop (e.g. target lists, or individual data files), simply drag and drop the file from/into the remote session.

Further instructions for remote observing with the DCT can be found here:

  • For observatories that use VNC connections, use the VNC application icon by clicking the icon at the bottom of the iMac screen.

Observing Software

The iMacs contain both iObserve (click the  Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 11.12.32 AM   icon in the bottom of the screen) and JSkyCalc, (icon located on the desktop) for monitoring the availability of targets.  We ask that you please create or re-use folders in “Observers Folders” on the Desktop when saving target lists locally.

The Desktop and Dock of the center iMac also has a link to the DCT Weather Station.  Observers must be connected to the Lowell VPN for this link to work.

Transferring Data to the local RAID

LAOC contains a 15 TB RAID array for temporarily storing data acquired as part of observing.  The RAID is on the network located  The credentials are the same as for the Windows machine.  You can transfer data connect to RAID using standard terminal commands.  Or, you can mount the RAID as a folder on the iMac through the Finder program: Finder -> Go -> Connect to Server.  Once mounted, data can be transferred again via terminal, or via drag and drop through Remote Desktop.

Computing Etiquette

When creating files on the computers, please do not clutter the Desktop folders or the root folders.  All files should be placed in a folder named your last name, inside “Observers Folders” on the Desktops.  The computers undergo updates occasionally, and data will not necessarily be preserved.  Likewise, data placed on the RAID array must be put into a folder titled your last name.

Before You Leave

Please be courteous to fellow LAOC users by leaving the room in a tidy condition.  Please dispose of any food items you bring into the room.  Please leave the remote controls for the Logitec microphone/camera system and the 55″ monitor next to the Windows keyboard so that future observers can easily find them.

Hall Displays Monitors

LAOC also controls two displays that show outreach related material to the BU community (wall-e3, wall-e4).  A separate document explains how to mirror a display monitor onto one of the hall displays.

CAS Building Access:

The CAS building may be locked after normal business hours. If you experience difficulty gaining access to the building, please call the Boston University Police at 617-353-2121. This number is also listed on the back of your BU I.D. card.

BU Police Phone Numbers:

Please contact the BU Police if you notice any suspicious activity in the building while observing, or if you ever feel unsafe.

  • BU Police emergency: 617-353-2121, or simply dial 32121 on the Cisco phone or Polycom
  • BU Police non-emergency: 353-2110, or simply dial 32110 on the Cisco phone or Polycom

For all other questions about the room, contact David Bradford (bradford@bu.eduCAS 511, 617-353-4884).

Room Information:

CAS 414

Phone number (Cisco IP phone): 617-358-6053

Teleconference phone number (Polycom): 617-358-4423

Computers: Windows:, iMacs:,,, RAID:

Useful Links: