AEON on SOAR
Updated on January 31, 2023, 12:25 pm
The Astronomical Event Observatory Network (AEON) is a facility ecosystem for accessible and efficient follow up of astronomical transients and Time Domain science. At the heart of the network, NOIRLab, with its SOAR 4.1m and Gemini 8m telescopes (and soon the CTIO Blanco 4m), has joined forces with Las Cumbres Observatory to build such a network for the era of the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). SOAR is the pathfinder facility for incorporating the 4m and 8m class telescopes into AEON.
A recent article on Science magazine features AEON and the windows into Time Domain, Multi-Messenger Astronomy, and general astronomical programs that this project will open up for the astronomical community in the near future. For a quick, simple introduction to AEON, watch the video below.
AEON brings a new observing mode for SOAR: a highly automated observing queue run with minimal human intervention. At present, guide star acquisition, and on-slit acquisition of the science target (for spectroscopic observations), are the only tasks done manually. As has always been the case, Telescope Operators also assess the observing conditions and have the authority and means to start/stop the AEON-queue based on weather or because of technical reasons. Other than these, the AEON-queue on SOAR is created entirely in an unsupervised, automatic way by a scheduler software at Las Cumbres Observatory, which takes all requests submitted by the various program PIs, and sorts them according to a number of parameters, which include (but not limited to) position on the sky, distance to the Moon and airmass constraints, SOAR minimum and maximum elevation limits, time window specified in the observing request.
After successful testing during 2018 and early 2019, SOAR and NOIRLab began offering AEON-SOAR observations, both imaging and low resolution spectroscopy, as a regular capability. In 2022B we added the Triple Spec 4.1 near-IR spectrograph to the capabilities supported in AEON mode.
In addition to dynamic, programmatically accessible scheduling, AEON on SOAR provides a web-based real-time spectroscopic data reduction pipeline, which allows our Goodman spectrograph users to get 1-dimensional, wavelength-calibrated spectra just seconds after the raw data have been written to disk, all on their web browser, without the need to download any software. The SOAR AEON queue includes an observation of a spectrophotometric standard star every night. TSpec observations in AEON mode will include a Telluric standard observed immediately after the science target. The Telluric will be picked automatically by the software running the observation, from an extensive list of A0 V stars, with the constraint that the airmass difference be < 0.1.
AEON brings a new observing mode for SOAR: a highly automated observing queue run with minimal human intervention. AEON mode is available to all SOAR partners, and there have been several AEON programs allocated time through the Chilean National TAC.
For 2023A we are running 13 science programs for a total of 250 hours, scheduled on 25 nights (9 programs for Goodman and 4 for TSPec). The actual number of nights each semester will ultimately depend on the demand and numbers of successful programs that request this observing mode.
Proposing for AEON on SOAR
In order to propose for AEON queue-mode observations on SOAR prospective users should go through one of the channels to request time on SOAR, as described in the Proposing for Time on SOAR web page.
For details on instruments and configurations being offered in "AEON mode" on a given semester, and additional information useful for preparing proposals, such as overheads, please refer to the SOAR AEON Features page. Note the addition of TripleSpec 4.1 to the available options.
Observing with AEON on SOAR
Astronomers can request observations either through the Las Cumbres Observation Portal, or via standardized, programmable interfaces, using established APIs, supported by the Target Observation Manager (TOM) Toolkit.
Once time is awarded, users will find that their active proposals are listed under the 'Manage Proposals' tab and they will be able to request observations. The time needed to execute an observation is debited automatically from the relevant proposal, but only once each observation is completed. If a request cannot be scheduled, no time is debited.
Observations can be requested by filling out the observation request form, or programmatically by submitting a request to our API. We strongly encourage proposers and users to read the "User Guide to AEON programs on SOAR", which describes the AEON observation process on SOAR and provides details on how to submit an observation request to SOAR. Users should also go through the "Las Cumbres Observatory Getting Started Guide", available from their Help page or at this link; it describes the procedure step-by-step. Detailed information on using the APIs can be found at at this link. Be aware that the because the Las Cumbres scheduler uses very conservative estimates for acquisition overheads, the estimated duration of an observation is usually longer than the effective time actually used once the observation is executed. Users will be charged the actual time used, not the initial estimate.
It is important to point that the SOAR AEON queue is an automated system, based on a robotic software scheduler. Therefore neither SOAR or Las Cumbres staff can modify the queue as built dynamically by the scheduler, nor make any tweaks.
Monitoring Your Observing Program
The homepage of a user's Observation Portal will show a list of all of the observations they have requested. Clicking on any observation will display more information on each component of the request, including a wealth of information on its scheduling status, the target visibility, and any data obtained - all updated in real-time. The "Getting Started on the LCO Global Telescope Network" guide in the help page describes the available information in more detail. You can also find information on the status of telescopes in the network.
Access to your data....in real time!
As soon as an observation is written to disk at SOAR, the raw Goodman data products are transferred automatically and made available through the Las Cumbres Observatory Archive, and also the NOIRLab Science Archive. Both archives provide the means for users to download the data products.
The SOAR Team has developed a live automated data reduction pipeline for Goodman data. This pipeline runs in real time during every AEON night at SOAR, reducing both imaging and spectroscopic data in real time. Seconds after your spectrum is written to disc, the 1-D wavelength-calibrated is produced and displayed in a web browser window. This provides an alternative means for users to download the data as it is obtained. For more details go to the Goodman Live Pipeline page.
Accessing TSPec data: for TSpec unfortunately we do not have a real time pipeline like for Goodman. Access to the TSPec data can be through the Las Cumbres Observation Portal, our dedicated server at SOAR, which runs the TSpec IDL data pipeline, or through the NOIRLab Astro Data Archive. You can reduce your TSPec data by either running the pipeline in our dedicated server, or by downloading and installing the IDL pipeline on your computer. In either case, you want to watch the step-by-step YouTube videos created by Dr. katelyn Allers, which you can find at this link.
Where to get help
AEON is a collaboration between Las Cumbres Observatory SOAR, Gemini and NOIRLab. The AEON Team gratefully acknowledges funding from the NSF.