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General Information for NASA Allocated Observing Time on the Keck Telescopes

FAQ Page

Table of Contents

I. Guidelines for Allocation of NASA Keck Telescope Time

II. Proposals in Support of NASA Space Missions

III. Multi-Semester Proposals

IV. Call for Corot Key Science Projects

V. Publication Acknowledgement

VI. Target of Opportunity Proposals

VII. Application Procedures

VIII. General Announcements

I. Guidelines for Allocation of NASA Keck Telescope Time

This call is now closed. NASA announces a call for proposals to use its share of observing time at the W. M. Keck Observatory. This call for semester 2010A (February 1, 2010 - July 31, 2010) will allocate approximately 30-34 nights of observing, with roughly 18-19 nights on Keck 1 and 12-15 nights on Keck 2, distributed evenly across dark, grey, and light time. Proposals are due on September 16, 2009 at 4pm PDT.

Ia. Strategic Use of NASA Keck Time

NASA intends the use of its time allocation on the Keck telescopes to be highly strategic in support of on-going missions and/or high priority, long term science goals. The NASA Keck time is not generally intended to be a substitute for the ground based support for individual projects now provided through the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) which offers time on NOAO's 4 m telescopes as well as the Gemini 8 m telescopes. This joint NASA-NOAO time is allocated through processes associated with each NASA mission's proposal cycle (e.g. HST, Spitzer, Chandra, GLAST).

The scientific areas in which proposals are being solicited are:

  1. Investigations in support of Exoplanet Exploration science goals and missions
  2. Investigations in support of Cosmic Origins science goals and missions
  3. Investigations of our own solar system
  4. Direct mission support

NASA's long term research goals are described in the NASA Strategic Plan.

The goals of the Exoplanet Exploration Program are described in several documents, including the May 2008report of the Exoplanet Task force to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory committee. Please note that only proposals regarding observation of exoplanets should be declared as Exoplanet Exploration.

Within the Exoplanet Exploration area, NASA will support a Key Project(s) to follow-up on discoveries made with the French transit satellite, CoRoT. Guidelines for CoRoT Key Science proposals can be found below. NASA will not solicit general proposals for the use of the Keck telescopes in support of the Kepler mission exoplanet transit Key Project until the first public release of Kepler data becomes available.

Cosmic Origins Science topics include stars, star formation, circumstellar disks, galaxies/AGN, and galaxy formation as described in the NASA Strategic Plan as well as in other NASA material.

Proposers should base their science case in terms of strategic relevance toward achieving one or more of NASA's goals for the Exoplanet Exploration, Cosmic Origins, or Solar System programs. During the review process, a numerical grade will be assigned for strategic relevance and given significant weight. Proposals may be reassigned to a different science area if deemed appropriate.

Examples of previous strategic projects with the NASA Keck time include the eta-Earth survey and the KI Nulling Exo-zodiacal Dust Survey which are in direct support of the goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. Programs requiring many nights of Keck time over multiple semesters (up to 4 semesters) may be submitted in response to this call, but must explicitly and strongly justify their strategic connection to the stated goals. See Section IV for the current multi-semester strategic project.

Within these broad guidelines, the allocation of time will be made based on scientific merit, strategic importance, availability of resources, and technical appropriateness. All proposals for use of NASA Keck time will be evaluated by a panel of scientists comprising the NASA Keck Telescope Allocation Committee (NASA/Keck TAC). The TAC process will be administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI). In recognition of the science communities that the NASA Keck time is expected to serve, TAC members are selected to assure balanced expertise in the areas of exoplanets, objects in our own solar system, and in support of NASA's Cosmic Origins goals. NASA's solicitation of proposals and their evaluation by the NASA Keck TAC will be phased so as to provide the evaluation and ranking of proposals needed to meet the telescope scheduling requirements set by the Director of the Keck Observatory.

Ib. Specifics for 2010A

NASA has allocated a number of nights (outside of those for the general call noted above) for follow-up of Kepler transit candidates by the Kepler Mission. Due to this, only programs ranked very highly in both scientific relevance and strategic importance will be considered for scheduling on Keck I during the months when the Kepler fields are visible (June-September). However, programs that can match half-nights on Keck I in May and October are strongly encouraged and should indicate this as a scheduling option.

Proposers are advised to bear in mind that runs of more than several contiguous nights are difficult to arrange and must be scientifically and technically justified. Similarly, proposals requesting less than full nights can ordinarily be accommodated only if they can be combined with another selected NASA proposal requiring the same instrument. Due to the extreme difficulty in scheduling the telescope in smaller than 0.5 night increments, any program requesting such increments will be counted as 0.5 nights per calendar night.

Ic. Procedure

The opportunity to propose as Principal Investigators (PIs) for the NASA time on the Keck Telescopes is open to all U.S.-based astronomers ("U.S.-based astronomers" have their principal affiliation at a U.S. institution). However, proposals from PIs with access to the Keck telescopes through other means (faculty and research scientists of the University of California system, Caltech, and the University of Hawaii) should indicate in their proposals how they are using any other Keck telescope time they have been awarded and why their proposed research requires time beyond the allocations available through their universities.

Proposals received by the application deadline will be reviewed and ranked by the NASA Keck TAC. The TAC will then submit their recommendations to the selecting official, the NExScI Executive Director, for final selection. NExScI will then coordinate these final selections with the Keck Observatory for scheduling.

The scientific case for observing time should establish three things:

  1. It should outline the scientific problem(s) or question(s) toward whose solution the observations are requested, and place these questions in the larger scientific context.
  2. It should show how the measurements requested will be used to illuminate these questions or problems.
  3. It should show how the proposed science fits into NASA's strategic goals for its Keck time as listed above. (Please note that a numerical grade will be assigned for strategic relevance.)

The technical case should demonstrate that the proposed measurements are technically feasible, given the performance of the proposed instrument(s), in the time requested. Mission support proposals must include additional supporting materials as stated in the next section. The number of target objects required should be justified.

All applications must include complete lists of the objects to be observed, their magnitudes and their approximate equatorial coordinates (sufficient to determine scheduling within the semester). Applications without such lists will be rejected.

Specific points which must be addressed include:

II. Proposals in Support of NASA Space Missions

The NASA-Keck Telescope Allocation Committee (TAC) occasionally receives observing proposals stating that the proposed observations, to a greater or lesser degree, provide critical and timely support for approved NASA space missions. The TAC accepts these Mission Support Proposals and evaluates them on the basis of their scientific merit just as any proposal. However, the NASA Keck time selecting official, the NExScI Executive Director, will take the TAC evaluation and programmatic concerns into consideration in making the final time assignments.

All proposals submitted under the mission support category must include the following:

Omission of any of these items will eliminate a proposal from consideration.

III. Multi-Semester Proposals

Principal investigators are allowed to submit proposals that span up to 4 semesters. The intent of allowing PIs this option is to reduce workload on both PIs and the NASA Keck TAC for long-term programs. The NASA Keck TAC will be instructed to consider these proposals in light of all of the criteria that apply for single semester proposals, in addition to the following considerations:

In considering multi-semester proposals, the TAC may recommend accepting the proposal in its entirety, for some subset of the proposed semesters, or reject it outright.

IV. Call for Corot Key Science Projects

NASA is specifically soliciting proposals for follow-up observations of CoRoT transit candidates. These proposals must have a PI based at a US institution and must include participation from the CoRoT team. These proposals may request up to 15 nights per semester up until the 2010B semester. More than one proposal to this Key Science call may be accepted for one or more instruments. Proposals to characterize individual transiting systems already released publically by the CoRoT team can be submitted via the standard proposal call in the exoplanet area.

Mission Overview

The CoRoT telescope was launched on Dec 27, 2006, and stares at a small number of fields for periods of 30-150 days looking for planets transiting their host stars. It is expected that up to 102-103 of the 105 stars monitored by CoRoT will show evidence for transits of planets with radii between the radius of Jupiter and a few earth radii. Significant follow-up work is required to validate these events as being due to transits and not to other astrophysical phenomena such as eclipsing binary systems and, ultimately to characterize planetary properties such as mass. The CoRoT mission also monitors a small number of bright stars for asteroseismological variations. However, this aspect of CoRoT is not regarded as directly relevant to NASA's strategic goals for the purposes of the Key Projects considered here.

Observing Scenario and Available Time

In cooperation with the CoRoT team and the French Space Agency (CNES), NASA has agreed to make available up to 15 nights of NASA Keck time per semester for up to 4 semesters starting in 2009A to assist with the validation and characterization of CoRoT targets. In return for its contribution of Keck time, CoRoT has agreed that selected US investigators will become "CoRoT Associated Scientists", and cooperate with CoRoT Co-Is or other Associated Scientists on the selected program. As CoRoT Associated Scientists, US investigators will participate fully in the preparation and publication of scientific papers incorporating data from CoRoT and the Keck telescopes.

While US investigators must serve as PIs on all Keck telescope proposals, the proposal team must include at least one member of the CoRoT team as approved by the PI of the CoRoT mission, Dr. Annie Baglin, through her designated representative, Dr. Magali Deleuil. The CoRoT team has established a wide ranging program of validation and follow-up using a number of smaller ground-based telescopes. It is important that the Keck time be fully integrated into that plan. Interested proposers should contact both Dr. Magali Deleuil and Dr. Malcolm Fridlund as soon as possible to establish the appropriate coordination and collaboration.

It is expected that Keck observations in the following areas will be of primary importance in the overall CoRoT program:

  1. Characterization of the parent stars
    • In many cases, spectroscopic observations taken to determine stellar radial velocities are insufficient to characterize the host star. CoRoT planets are predominantly found around relatively faint stars (14 mag). Spectra with a S/N of ~200 with a resolution around 60,000-70,000 are needed for the requisite modeling and demand a large telescope. The objective of this spectroscopy is to provide improved stellar parameters (including metallicity and age estimates) and thus improved planet parameters.

  2. Validation of planetary nature of transit signals
    • High angular resolution imaging using adaptive optics to resolve potential binary or higher order multiple systems, which might mimic a transiting system.
    • RV measurements at a sensitivity of 1-2 m/s to eliminate a variety of stellar systems and to determine masses of intermediate mass planets.

  3. Observation of secondary transits in the infrared.

  4. Other observations as agreed to with the endorsement of the CoRoT PI or her representatives.

It is mandatory that a letter (email) from Dr. Magali Deleuil endorsing the proposal as part of the broad CoRoT follow-up campaign be included in each submission.

Data processing and Proprietary Period

The proposal should describe in detail any data reduction techniques needed to achieve the program goals, e.g. high precision radial velocity measurements. The proposer should explicitly describe the relevant expertise of his/her team in reducing the data sought in the proposal. Data obtained with the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) will be proprietary until 12 months after the end of the duration of each proposal (up to 4 semesters) at which time it will be released via the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA).

Evaluation Criteria

The proposals will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  1. Demonstrated understanding of the scientific context and theoretical background of the science goals of the program, e.g. how an improved statistical knowledge of the incidence of planets of various sizes and orbital parameters informs our understanding of planetary system formation and evolution, or how physical characteristics of transiting planets can be related their formation and evolution.
  2. Demonstrated knowledge in the efficient use of the requested technique(s) to validate transit candidates or to characterize transiting planets and detailed justification for the number of nights requested on each instrument and the number of semesters for the total project. Specifically, how Keck observations fit into an overall program of transit validation and characterization such that valuable Keck time is used to the greatest effect.
  3. Description of a plan to use other telescope resources to filter out false positive candidates (low resolution spectroscopy or coarse imaging) so as to maximize the scientific return of the Keck Telescopes by concentrating on those candidates requiring the full power of a 10-m telescope.
  4. Description of an integrated plan to accomplish proposal goals involving members of the U.S. team and the CoRoT Exoplanet team, with clear roles identified for all team members.

Proposal Specifications

Proposers should follow the same guidelines as those for the general call as outlined in the Application Procedures section except that these Key Science proposals may contain up to 4 pages of scientific justification and 2 pages of figures and tables. Target lists including approximate coordinates (at a level sufficient to ensure appropriate scheduling within a semester) must be included. The endorsement letter (e-mail) from the COROT project may be included as a separate attachment.

V. Publication Acknowledgement

All publications based on data acquired with the Keck telescopes should include the following acknowledgement:

"Data presented herein were obtained at the W.M. Keck Observatory from telescope time allocated to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the agency's scientific partnership with the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W.M. Keck Foundation.

The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain."

Please send a citation for any paper using this acknowledgement to Dr. Dawn Gelino (

VI. Target of Opportunity Proposals

The NASA TAC will consider target-of-opportunity proposals at any time. However, proposers should bear in mind that target-of-opportunity observations are very difficult to schedule and will usually require rescinding the allocation of an already-scheduled NASA observer. Consequently, a target-of-opportunity proposal should be submitted only in the case of a truly extraordinary opportunity that could not have been anticipated prior to the regular proposal deadline.

Target-of-opportunity proposals may be sent by e-mail, FAX, or surface mail to:

Dr. Dawn Gelino
NASA Exoplanet Science Institute
770 S. Wilson Ave., MC 100-22
Pasadena, CA 91125
Fax: 626/397-7181

VII. Application Procedures

Applications Procedures

To submit your proposal, please follow the guidelines outlined on the Application Procedures page, and submit your proposal via the online submission page. Proposals are due on September 16, 2009 at 4 pm PDT.

Proposal Support

NASA will financially support the programs assigned time through this call for proposals. Principal investigators of programs assigned time will receive limited research and travel funding. Funding awards will be determined through formulaic means. NExScI will manage the Keck PI Data Awards and will contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to administer the disbursement of most of the funds. The funding instrument used by JPL will in most cases be in the form of a Research Support Agreement (RSA) depending on the size of the award and the nature of the PI's home institution. An RSA is a simple Fixed Price, Advance Paid, subcontract provided through JPL that is used for basic research funding where scientific reports and technical data are the only deliverables. RSAs can be awarded to educational and non-profit institutions. JPL is unable to issue grants. Proposers should not include any budget information in the proposal.

The only reporting necessary for RSAs is a final "end of contract" report outlining the work done and listing publications from the research. This report is not optional.

VIII. General Announcements

For a complete description of available instruments, see the W.M. Keck Observatory: Observing at WMKO page. Note that all data taken with the High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph (HIRES) has a default proprietary period of 18 months and is then released to the community via the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA). Requests for extensions of this proprietary period MUST be included in the proposal and be scientifically justified. All extensions must be approved by the NASA selecting official, NExScI Director, Dr. Charles Beichman.

NASA Keck observers now have access to Caltech's Remote Observing Facilities (ROF) for their Keck observations. Please note that other remote observing facilities are also available and NASA users with access to these facilities can use these; use of the Caltech ROF is not required of NASA Keck users wanting to observe remotely. NASA Keck observers who do want to make use of the Caltech ROF are required to follow the procedure described here.

Web Curator and NExScI Cognizant Official: Dr. Dawn Gelino