Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 impact on the La Silla Paranal Observatory


Observatory status and restarting operations

  • Latest information is available on LPO News webpage.
  • What requirements have to be met before Paranal Observatory can be reopened again? (Observatory sites in safe state between March-September 2020)

    Answer: The evaluation of the situation in Chile includes the evolution of COVID-19 infections as well as government restrictions on travel and quarantine. Once it is established that safe travel is possible and permitted, the observatory needs to move about 50 people to Paranal to re-start the telescopes, cool-down instruments, calibrate and start restricted science operations. Once a positive decision for ramp-up is made, it takes about three weeks for the first scientific data to be taken, and about two weeks thereafter designated visitor mode observations can also be started.

    Update 18 Sep 2020: Given the continued evolution of pandemic in Chile with different stages across the country (some still in quarantine, some with less restrictions), the Observatory has announced on 28 August 2020 plan to resume "minimal science operations" on Paranal, APEX and La Silla and science observations with UVES and FORS2 have started shortly ahead of the announced plan.

    Update 8 Dec 2020: Further ramp-up depends on the pandemic situation in Chile and health conditions in the observatory. APEX and La Silla have all systems fully operational. On Paranal the ramp-up takes longer due to large number of telescopes and instruments and limited number of staff. We are hoping to have all the instruments operational by January 2021, but there may be unexpected delays and it cannot be completely excluded that we go back to safe state.

    Update 28 Jan 2021: The observatory continues operating in restricted operations mode, meaning that it has the minimum necessary staff complement for science operations. In case something breaks, there may not be expert staff or material on site available for fixing the problem, which may lead to delays or loss of efficiency. So far the operations have been running quite smoothly and on Paranal all instruments are operational with the exception of HAWK-I, which will be put into operation at the end of Q1 and VISIR, which will be added later.

    The situation is evaluated every two weeks. We regularly update the La Silla Paranal News webpage with results of the latest bi-weekly review or when status changes. Please check this page for the latest status of the Observatory operations.
  • Could observations be carried out remotely?

    Answer (updated 18 Sep 2020): We must have a minimum number of staff on site to re-start the systems that were powered down during safe state and to safely operate the telescopes and instruments. When possible we indeed plan to convert scheduled Visitor Mode observing runs to so-called designated Visitor Mode, enabling remote participation in the observations.
    On La Silla this requires commissioning a new eavesdropping tool as well as network changes.

    Update 8 Dec 2020: For instruments that are in operations (see the LPO News webpage) the Visitor Mode runs scheduled on Paranal as well as La Silla are converted into so-called designated Visitor Mode, where the observations are taken by the observatory staff in remote contact with observers. The users are contacted several weeks before the run starts and provided instructions to prepare the observations and connect during the run.

    Update 28 Jan 2021: After observatory reached restricted operations, there are few restrictions for scheduling of remote observations via designated Visitor Mode. Due to long travel to the sites and no overlap between the teams that operate on bi-weekly schedule, the dVM observations are avoided on nights when the shifts change. The observatory schedule is updated in coordination with the observatory and affected PIs and suitable solutions implemented.

Proposal submission

  • Will there be a call for proposals for P107 (April-Sep 2021)?

    Answer: The call for Proposals was suspended due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the La Silla Paranal Observatory.
    Please see the announcement.
    Note that ESO will open a special channel for novel, urgent and high impact science proposals for a limited fraction of time during P107. Details about this channel is now available here.

  • Is it possible to submit DDT proposals for P106 (Oct 2020-Mar 2021)?

    Answer: Following a detailed assessment of the current situation and the logistic, technical, and safety constraints, as well as the capacity to guarantee the compliance with all measures needed to protect the health of its staff at all times, ESO announced the plan to re-establish a minimum level of science operations at the observatory sites.

    As first instruments put into operations are FORS2@UT1 and UVES@UT2, for these instruments it is possible to submit Director's Discretionary Time proposals as of Monday 21 September for these instruments. As X-SHOOTER was added to the operations on UT3, it became also availalbe for DDT proposals as of 23 October. The next instrument was MUSE@UT4 working initially in non-AO mode, and further expanded to add also AO modes. By the end of 2020 most of the instruments have been put into operations. DDT proposals can be submitted for all operational instruments. The criteria that proposals must fulfil in order to be eligible for the allocation of Director's discretionary time can be found here.

    The continued addition of the last few instruments into operations (HAWK-I planned to start science operations by the end of Q1 2021 and VISIR earliest in Q2 2021) depends on the pandemic situation in Chile and health conditions in the observatory. While the observatory reached the restricted operations state, there is no certainty and it cannot be completely excluded that we go back to safe state, should the health and safety measures require such action. The LPO News webpage provides the status of the observatory and is updated regularly as there are further changes. It is possible to submit DDT proposals for Paranal for instruments that are currently in operations.

Observations scheduled during ESO Period 105

  • What happens with programmes that got time allocated in Period 105?

    Answer: In April ESO informed all users who were allocated time in Period 105 that Science Operations had ceased at all ESO observatories as of the week following 22 March 2020. At that point in time, there was no robust predictions when operations would resume. Users were advised to consider re-submitting their proposals, because the observing time lost in Period 105 would be considered as "weather loss". Only A-ranked Service Mode runs that are eligible for carryover according to Science Operations Policy (i.e. extending the programme for up to one full visibility period or 1 year) would be carried over into Periods 106-107.

    In the beginning of August, given the extended impact of the pandemic, ESO announced that the Call for Proposals for P107 will be suspended. This decision was taken in order to ensure that new science observations can be scheduled as planned when the Call for Proposals for P106 was issued, as well as to ensure that there is sufficient time to include the backlog accumulated from Period 105. The exceptional impact of COVID-19 and its detrimental effects on PIs who had time allocated during Period 105, will be treated in an exceptional way - this is different from the original plan that followed more strictly the Science Operations Policy.

    All PIs whose programmes were affected by the loss of time in Period 105 will be contacted on a case-by-case basis with information on the specific plan for their observations. The baseline assumption to fill-up the time during Period 107 with programmes from P105 is as follows:
    (1) All approved P105 runs scheduled in A-rank class in Service Mode (including GTO, Large Programmes, Target of Opportunity and Monitoring Programmes) and in Visitor Mode (for both Paranal and La Silla Observatories, including GTO), which are still scientifically viable after P105, will be carried over to P107 and scheduled with high priority. All PIs will be informed about the carryover decision by the end of August.
    (2) All approved P105 runs scheduled in B-rank class (and C-rank fillers), which are still scientifically viable after P105 and have not been allocated time in P106 following the proposal resubmission, will be automatically carried over to P107. They will be available for scheduling on the best effort basis. It is anticipated that a fraction of B-ranked runs may be scheduled given the already anticipated commitments and the need to allow some fraction of time for new urgent science cases. The outcome of the P107 schedule will be communicated after its completion. All PIs will be informed.
    (3) A channel for submission of new important science cases that would be otherwise missed because of the P107 call suspension will be opened. The community will be informed as soon as the proposal submission and review process is defined.

    We note that at the time of writing the observatory is still in "safe" mode with operations suspended. The assumption above is that P106 will be a normal period with operations very little or not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty about the expected re-start of the operations needs to be considered.
  • My programme has been scheduled in Visitor Mode in Period 105. Is there a possibility to convert it to Service Mode?

    Answer: No, it is not possible to re-schedule Visitor Mode runs or to convert them to Service Mode.

    Following the announced suspension of the Call for Proposals for P107, the plan is to re-schedule all Visitor Mode runs during P107. All PIs will be informed in due course.
  • My programme has been scheduled in Visitor Mode (on La Silla telescope/on VLT/on VLTI) in Period 105 and I was informed that the VM is cancelled due to observatories shutdown. However, my targets are also observable later in the period. Is there a possibility to re-schedule my observations or carry-over the programme to Period 106?

    Answer: No, it is not possible to re-schedule Visitor Mode runs to a later time. 

    Following the announced suspension of the Call for Proposals for P107, the plan is to re-schedule all Visitor Mode runs during P107. All PIs will be informed in due course.
  • I had a programme originally scheduled in Period 104 (Period 103) in Service Mode, but as part of the observations were not completed, I was informed that the run is carried over to Period 105. With the observatory closed what will happen to my programme?

    Answer: Period 104 Service Mode runs are eligible for carryover to Period 106, but not beyond that. Service Mode runs originally scheduled in Period 103 are not eligible for carryover beyond Period 105.

    Following the announced suspension of the Call for Proposals for P107, the observatory will re-evaluate the scientific viability of all affected highly ranked proposals and consider possibility of their carryover to P106/P107. All PIs will be informed in due course.
  • My programme was partially executed and then terminated when the operations ceased at the end of Period 104. Now, do I need to re-submit my proposal or the observations will be resumed after this situation? If former is the case, would any priority be considered for the terminated programmes?

    Answer: The COVID-19 situation is mainly affecting the current observing Period 105, which should have started April 1st 2020.  It had relatively little impact on the previous period because ESO ceased all the observing activities just 1 week before the end of Period 104. The runs that were terminated at the end of Period 104 were not eligible for carryover according to Science Operations Policy as described in the Call for Proposals.
    To obtain the remaining data a new proposal needs to be resubmitted, and it will be evaluated alongside all other proposals based on its scientific merit. There is no special treatment for re-submission of partially completed proposals.
  • Will my Large Programme be extended automatically?

    Answer: A short answer is yes. The Large Programme runs affected by the COVID-19-related observatory shutdown will be carried over at least one useful semester with no specific re-evaluation by the OPC. Any additional compensation of time loss must be requested through a report to the OPC. The next re-evaluation of the Large Programmes progress will be in November 2021.

    Large Programme runs scheduled both on Paranal and on La Silla in Visitor Mode during Period 105 that were cancelled due to COVID-19 will be allocated in Period 107, and the possible runs after Period 107 moved forwards accordingly.

Observations scheduled during ESO Period 106




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