Observing Tool Documentation

Observing Tool Documentation

This document describes the preparation of UKIRT observations under the UKIRT Observing Tool. It assumes that you have already acquired the software (see the download page). Of course, if you are using a UKIRT machine, the software is already installed. Email ukirt@hawaii.edu with questions or problems. 

This guide is intended to be relatively complete without going into the details of the science libraries on which most observing is based. Those details can be found elsewhere (in the libraries themselves and on the instrument web pages (Cassegrain or WFCAM)). The topics covered apply equally whether you are preparing observations remotely or at the Observatory. We suggest you read through sequentially, following the “tours” as they come up. 

We strongly recommend that you use the online version of this document. If you are reading these notes within the OT’s own help system, please be aware that the web version may be more up to date, and that external links will not be accessible. The native Java browser is not as user-friendly as Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer. 

Finally – please be sure to read the list of known issues with the current release (you will find this at the end of the document).

I. Introduction

The central system in UKIRT Observing is a database of observations held at the summit of Mauna Kea. Observations are prepared by the Principal Contact for each observing program, using the Observing Tool. The science program is stored on disk locally (which can be accessed globally), and once complete, submitted into the summit database.  The TSS (telescope system specialist) uses a database query tool to sort and extract observations to be done; details of the execution are instrument-specific, and we do not discuss them here. Once you are familiar with the information here, please consult the instrument pages for information specific to the instrument required by your program.

Your program id is something like u/yys/n where “yys” identifies the semester (e.g., 07B) and n is the id number of your telescope time proposal.

Note for queue-scheduled PIs (PATT): once your program is saved into the database and the semester is underway, the local file version should be considered a backup only. This is because the repeat count on MSBs within the program in the database will change as observations are done. If you resubmit the file copy into the database, you will overwrite that status information, and an already-executed MSB may be re-done inadvertently. So the recommendations are: (i) use a local file copy only for backup purposes. (ii)  if you want to make changes to your project once the semester is underway, fetch it from the database, make your changes, and resubmit. And (iii) preferably do so when it is not night time in Hawaii. If you see a message referring to “file has changed on disk” when using database…submit, it probably means that the summit observers are active on your project, and a count has changed since you fetched the project from the database. In these circumstances, it is probably wise not to submit the changes for reasons already stated. 

II. The Observing Tool

Startup Screens

When you run the OT you will see a splash screen which gives authorship etc.; dismiss this and you will be left with the OT main window:

When starting afresh, most of the useful actions reside under the “File” menu.

File Menu ItemFunction
New ProgramCreates a new science program. This is the first thing you’ll do when starting from scratch.
New LibraryIgnore this; it is for UKIRT staff use only.
OpenRead in a science program file stored locally on disk. Initially, your science program will be stored locally; only when it is complete and validated will you submit to the database.
Open…libraryThese entries pop open windows onto the UKIRT libraries which store recommended sequences and standard stars.

The File Menus

A word of caution – both the File menus and the Database menus differ between the OT main window and the Science Program window. Here are the respective file menus:

So note that (sensibly, given the ability to have more than one science program open at a time) the file menu which contains “Save” and “Save as…” is the one on the Science Program window. Similarly, the Database menu on the OT main window contains only “Fetch,” while the Database menu on the Science Program window contains only “Store.”

Tour: The Science Program Window

Select “New Program” to create a new program. This produces a window like the following (click on the image for a description of the various component parts). The main areas are

  1. the menu and general tool bars at the top 
  2. the component tool bar down the lefthand side 
  3. the program display panel in the middle 
  4. the editor panel on the right

If you don’t see exactly the above when creating a science program, look under the “View” menu and alter the settings which control whether words, pictures, or both are used to display the toolbars. 

Initially, the only thing in your program panel is a “Science Program” line. You will add to the program later. For now, take the time to fill in its administrative details in the Science Program editor panel on the right. The most important field here is the Project ID field. You have to get this right, or you will not be able to submit your program to the summit database. Your project ID was assigned when you submitted your proposal for telescope time. It is of the form u/yys/ followed by the proposal number (yys indicate the semester – e.g., 07B). You can also find your proposal number on our web page of time allocations. Finally, note that the program itself calculates an estimate of the total time required and displays this in the administration panel.

Tour: The UKIRT Template Libraries

While it is possible to build up observing sequences from scratch, we strongly recommend that you adapt one of the many “library sequences” found in the UKIRT template libraries, which are found on the main file menu. As an example, the UIST template library window is shown below, with all the libraries in their initial non-expanded state. Click on the image for a short tour of the library contents:

Typically, setting up your UKIRT program involves opening the appropriate library, finding within it a sequence which matches your requirements, and copy/pasting or drag/dropping it into your new science program; then you are in a position to alter instrument configurations, target lists and to document the program for the observer’s benefit. Refer back to the Science program window tour for the locations of the cut, copy and paste buttons (or look at the figure above, where you’ll see three buttons starting with the scissors). An example of a more complete science program is given below, but first we’ll introduce some of the essential building blocks.

Minimum Schedulable Blocks

The basic quantum of observing, both in classical and flexible scheduling (though more natural to think of in flexing), is the “minimum schedulable block”. This is the smallest part of the program which is complete, fully-reducible and thus stands alone. In most cases, an MSB will  be executed at the telescope in its entirety. For example, a target observation would be incomplete without suitable calibrations, and so one might define the smallest spectroscopic MSB as comprising the spectrum of a target, combined with sufficient flats, arcs and a standard star to be fully reducible. For efficiency, the observing system at the summit allows the observer to skip calibrations if not required (e.g. if executing a number of similar MSBs which can share an existing calibration). Note that the UKIRT template library contains MSBs, not just Observations, so you will naturally be building up from these.

You should aim to produce a science program consisting of suitably-titled MSBs. The title will appear in the query tool when observing at the telescope, so try to make your titles as descriptive as possible.

Science program elements

MSBs within your science program specify observing conditions, instrument configurations, telescope offset sequences and data reduction recipes for all the observations you have been given time to carry out. They do this through combinations of the following elements:

Program IconDesignated items
An “Observation” (e.g. of a target or a standard star)
A “Component” – in this case an Instrument component. These are used to “set scenes” (in the illustrated case, one or more instrument configurations which will apply within an Observation).
A “Sequence” – this contains the actions undertaken in an Observation – for example, offsetting the telescope and taking data at each offset point. If you omit a Sequence, no amount of configuration components will cause anything to actually happen at the telescope.
An “Iterator” – these cause either the instrument, or the telescope, to loop through a series of different configurations (in the case of the telescope, the loop is through Offset positions). Everything inside the iterator is repeated for each of its settings.
An “Observe” – Each Observe causes one data file to be produced. If there’s no Observe in your sequence, the telescope may well offset and the instrument may well set to a configuration, but no data will result.

Note that you will not, normally, have to insert any of the above into your program manually, because you will start from the library sequences which incorporate all the commonly-used data acquisition methods.

To read a science program you have to understand its hierarchy. An example:

Here, everything is more indented than the Science Program icon, therefore everything is part of the Science Program. By contrast, the two “dry target” MSBs are at the same indent level, so are independent of each other within the program.  The second MSB is not “expanded” – its contents are hidden pending a click on the lever to its left.

Within the first MSB, and hence indented further, is an Observation,which itself contains a Target component, an Instrument component and a Sequence (all three of these are at the same indent relative to the Observation). The sequence in turn contains an offset iteratorwhich “contains” an Observe. Recall that the Sequence is just a formality, indicating that everything within it is executable. The Iterator, however, is a loop – everything within it (usually but not always this is just an Observe)is done for every setting of the telescope offset iterator.

When executed at the telescope, this particular Observation sets the instrument up, moves to a target, then takes data frames at each position of an offset pattern.


The observing tool allows MSBs to inherit properties from the program environment they find themselves in. For example, if a site quality component is present at the top of a science program (as in the example above), then none of the MSBs within the program need to have a site-quality component of their own; they inherit it from this global one. Conversely, a site-quality component within an MSB “trumps” such a global component. This also applies to Target components; a target given at the top of an MSB, outside the scope of Flat, Standard and Object Observations, will apply to all three (so when the flat/arc observation is run, the telescope will slew to your science target). This may or may not be what you intend; check the logic carefully (obviously in this example you would also want to override the global target in the standard-star Observation).

Administrative: Scheduling and Site Quality Components, Priorities

Scheduling constraints

The scheduling constraint component allows you to determine the scheduling of observing within your program by specifying both a range of dates and elevation limits. Click the image below for more information on the scheduling component’s editor panel.

Note that most of the library MSBs do not contain scheduling constraints – this is because most programmes require the same constraints throughout. Therefore, once you have created a new program, the normal first step is to select a Scheduling Constraints component from the “Component” item on the left-hand toolbar.

Site Quality

Four constraints relating to site quality can also be specified by making the appropriate selections in the site quality component. Click the image below for more information on the Site Quality component’s editor panel.

Again, it is normal for the same site quality requirement to apply to all MSBs in a program, and so these components are not normally part of the library MSBs. The normal second step is therefore to insert one of these components into the top of the program (along with the scheduling constraints). This component is found under the “Component” list also.

PATT PIs beware: the Time Allocation Group may have assigned your project a set of default observing conditions constraints. You will have received notification of these constraints with your time allocation. These are associated with your entire project in the OMP database and will override any more relaxed constraints you specify in your MSBs.  Please ensure that your site quality requests are consistent with those assigned by the TAG. See the “allocations” page for details if you are unsure.

Using inheritance with the administrative components

As stated above, the majority of programs will require the same site quality and scheduling settings for all MSBs. In those cases, the inheritance mechanism avoids having to copy these components into every MSB, but individual MSBs which require different conditions.

In this (schematic and incomplete) example, the site quality component at the top applies to the three MSBs which don’t have their own; only “wet target” overrides this global component. 

To insert a Site Quality (or Scheduling Constraints) into a given MSB, expand the MSB and highlight its title line (as in the figure here), then select the required component from the “Component” list on the left hand toolbar in the Program window. 

NOTE – Site Quality and Scheduling Constraints cannot be included in an Observation within an MSB. These components apply to MSBs, not Observations within MSBs. If you break this rule, you will get a validation error.


Your project has been allocated a TAG priority which specifies its overall importance in the queue. However you can control the priority of individual MSBs within the programme by using the “Priority” number in the MSB top level window: 

Setting priority on a given MSB. 

Here the first MSB in the programme has been given just below medium priority (55).

Note that if all your targets are up at the same time and all are consistent with the prevailing conditions, the priority setting will determine which is executed first. To automatically set priority on all MSBs in your programme, use the “Auto Prioritize” facility.

Setting priority on all MSBs: 

Click the “Prioritize” button (top right of this image). This assigns a priority between 1 and 99 to all MSBs in the programme, working from the top down.

Tour: A more complete science program

The figure below shows a science program which is fairly straightforward and a reasonable approximation to what one might expect to have to set up for either classical or flexible observing. There are ways to give programs “Logic” (different combinations of MSBs, etc.) – these are discussed in “Advanced Topics” at the end of this document, and your support scientist will be happy to help with questions in this area. Most programs will not need to use this type of logic, and supplying a flat set of MSBs as in this example will be fine.

Moving Objects

Moving objects (excepting planets and other bodies which are accessible in the pull down menu in the Target component) are accommodated via orbital elements. The format of these elements is fairly specific. An example is given in the figure below.

Top: Orbital elements as found, in this example, on the 
NASA JPL NEO orbit diagrams page

Bottom: Elements specified in the Target Component Elements tab. 
Note the different format for Epoch and Time of Perihelion Passage, in particular.

The OT can use the Horizons database to resolve a given minor planet’s name into elements. An example is given below.

Name resolution for moving objects: When “Orbital elements” is the selected Target Type, the “Resolve name” button queries the Horizons database for elements. 

Note that the name format is somewhat picky and you may have to use trial and error to get something that works for a particular target. Also note that the OT uses a resource at JPL which is intended for human reading, not computer processing. As such the output format is subject to arbitrary changes, so there is no guarantee that this search feature will work or that the results are accurate; for example it is possible that elements may end up in the wrong field or omitted completely. 

Always double check the returned values.

Allowing for Proper Motion

Entries for the RA and Declination proper motion rates (in milliarcseconds per year) can be made in your target component. 

Proper motion entered as milliarcseconds per year in the target component. These values are taken into account when slewing the telescope.

Tour: Using the Position Editor

The position editor is used to set up guide stars, science field orientations (slit angles etc.) and display catalogues of sources in the field of your observations. It is started up either by clicking the “plot” button in the target component page, or by clicking the “image” button on the main toolbar, as described in the tour of the science program window, above. Click on the image below to take a tour of the position editor’s facilities.

By default the position editor loads images from the digitized sky survey. However it can also load any FITS image with an appropriate WCS, from the File menu; this has entries for either files on disk, or URLs which point to fits files. If, for example, you want to import a SCUBA map in NDF format, convert it to FITS by using the starlink convert utility with the following arguments: 

ndf2fits encoding=FITS-IRAF bitpix=32 comp=D


The OT has access to a wide variety of stellar and nonstellar catalogues, including the Guide Star Catalogue, USNO, NED etc. These are all accessible under the Position Editor’s “Catalog” menu, using item “Catalogs”.  Select your required catalogue (from the nearest accessible server) and the stars will be plotted on the PE display. To browse the catalogue in text form, run the Catalog…Browse function. The Browse window is shown below. If you click on a star in the PE display, the selected star will be highlighted in the table (as shown below).

The catalogue browser window. Note that the column headings are “sort” buttons – here we have elected to sort by magnitude.

Large Programmes

If your observing programme involves observations of a large number of targets, you have two options. Either (i) clone a template MSB using a text-file target list, or (ii) use survey containers to hold multiple pointings in a single MSB or MSBs. Each of these options is described below. For large surveys of contiguous areas of sky, you should use the Survey definition tool (SDT) which is linked to at the top of this document. 

Cloning a Program from a Single MSB and a Catalogue in a Text File

If you have many sources which you wish to observe in a similar way and do not wish to go through the rigmarole of creating a target component for each one, there is a way to generate a science program from a template MSB and a text (ASCII) catalog file. This uses a web service at the JAC site – so you need an internet connection to do this.

Start with a science program which contains a template MSB with a blank target component (for example, a template MSB you have retrieved from the UFTI library). Your catalog file should be of the format: 

PKS0106         01 08 38.771 + 01 35 00.32 RJ
3C84 03 19 48.160 + 41 30 42.10 RJ
3C120 04 33 11.096 + 05 21 15.62 RJ
PKS0438 04 40 17.180 - 43 33 08.60 RJ

The catalog format is not blank space sensitive – if you have existing catalogues compatible with the JCMT’s sourceplot package, they  will work as is, provided they do not contain planets or objects with orbital elements.

Under the edit menu (in the Science Program window), there is an option called “Replicate from catalog”. Choose this action and you will be asked for the location of the catalog file. Once you have done this, the OT will contact our site and after a short delay will pop up a new science program window containing multiple MSBs. So if you had an MSB with one blank target component and a catalog file with 12 sources, you will get back a science program with 12 MSBs, whose target components have been filled in using the information from your catalog.

Of course you should tweak the MSBs further, such as giving them more informative titles, adding guide stars and tweaking the observation parameters on each source.

Survey Containers

Survey Containers allow you to include multiple pointings at the top level of an MSB, such that the Observation within the container will be done at each pointing in the container. These are generally recommended for doing a group of pointings which lie in the same part of the sky – e.g. four pointings to generate a complete WFCAM “tile”. The containers are present in the WFCAM template library “Survey” templates:

When an MSB like the above is fetched from the database at the summit, it is expanded into N Observations, where N is the number of targets in the Container. However the meaning of MSB remains the same: the whole of the MSB must be doable for it to come up in the queue. Corollary: it is a Bad Idea to include targets over a wide range of RA in one survey container.

Here is what you see when you click on the Container itself:

To manually add and remove positions, use “Add” and “Remove” buttons at the bottom of the panel. Here is a completed container:

Note the “Target Information” Tab. Each target has its own target info, in a format identical to the familiar Target Component:

On the Survey Targets tab, there is a “load” button. This allows you, if you’re not using the SDT to populate your Container, to upload a set of targets from a text file in the following format (slightly different from the format for MSB cloning):

BASE BGPS3097  18:34:12.03  -08:22:57.3 FK5
GUIDE GD2  18:31:12.06  -07:59:05.2 FK5
BASE BGPS3100  18:34:19.16  -08:23:27.9 FK5
GUIDE GD2  18:31:12.06  -07:59:05.2 FK5

The first line is the Survey ID, which will become the title of the survey container. This is prefixed to every supplied target name as follows:

(so it is best to keep it short!).

Finally, note that there is a template MSB in the WFCAM template library which uses a Survey Container to carry out a complete “tile” (four WFCAM pointings). In this case, the diffferent pointings are generated by using the “Offset” fields in the individual target tabs; so the same base position should be entered into each tab if you use this MSB.

IMPORTANT – Program Documentation

There are two levels at which you must document your program’s MSBs. These are (i) notes which the observer will see and (ii) internal notes which the support scientist will make use of when vetting the program. The second type of note should be scattered through the program, identifying for your own benefit (and that of your support astronomer) why you have made particular selections of (e.g.) offset parameters or library sequence. 

The first type of note is what you get by selecting “Show to the Observer” in the Note component. We do not expect (or allow) summit observers to access your program in the OT to find out what you’re trying to do; instead, your MSBs, individually, can each contain one note (flagged as “show to Observer”) which will pop up on the QT screen at the summit. These notes should clearly contain rather generic information about the program as a whole, plus any specific items for this particular MSB; the following table gives examples of the two types of information.

StrategicThis program does spectroscopy of both faint and bright emission knots in galaxies, looking for good detections of line strengths in emission. Standard ABBA jitters are used. It is more important to this program that you get to all the targets, than ensure detection of each of them. So, spend an hour on each target unless the lines come in quickly (S/N of 10 would do);  if nothing after 1 hour don’t waste any more of my allocated time, just move on to the next source (unless you believe there is evidence that my conditions constraints are too relaxed, in which case please let the support astronomer know). If you do see a line, stay on it as long as is necessary (within reason) to get a good detection. 
MSB-specificI’m not sure how bright the lines in this particular target are, but there’s a chance that the exposure time I’ve given is too long. Please watch for saturation in the line peaks and reduce exposure time if necessary.

You would place this Observer note in each of your MSBs, with only the MSB-specific part changing from one to the next. Don’t overload the observer with information – the above is reasonable. 

When you click “show to observer” you are presented with four boxes in which we require you to place indications of your positional accuracy, description of your source’s infrared appearance, brightness estimates (visual and infrared) and signal-to-noise requirements. This documentation has been a requirement since Semester 03B; the aim is to ensure that Observer notes are of more uniform quality and detail – the above four items were considered particularly important for summit observers to know. Filling these boxes in accurately is a program-vetting checklist item.

A simple program note in the note editor panel. Show to Observer has been ticked and suitable entries have been made in the four resulting text fields.

If you have more than one “Show to Observer” note, the contents will be concatenated and all displayed at the summit. Since the observer will not have time to read long screeds of information during the course of observing, please make sure you do not overload them this way.

Observer notes – what NOT to do

Here we list some common faults with observer notes. Please avoid these if you can.

Instructions which aren’t necessary
Please don’t confuse the observer by apparently issuing instructions in the observer notes which are in fact implicit in what the MSB will do. For example: “Please offset to nearby sky field for sky flats” is superfluous if that’s what the Observations in the MSB actually do. Instead, try something like “The MSB will first offset the telescope to a nearby sky field and take a sky flat jitter.”

Concatenate incoherently
If you include “show to observer” notes in the global position at the top of the project and also within MSBs, they will be concatenated and the observer will, when fetching a given MSB, see both the global one and the MSB-specific one. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this but please make sure that the notes (i) are at least consistent with each other (ii) don’t duplicate information (iii) are coherent when concatenated.

CHECKLIST – What to look out for in a Typical Program

Within a typical MSB, you should be attempting to ensure that:

  1. The MSB’s contents represent a complete, calibratable observation of a science target. In most cases this means that all MSBs must contain Observations of a Standard Star, though these observations can be flagged as Optional (as described previously) to allow the observer to skip them if they are sure that a suitable standard already exists. Note that time observing standards from your MSBs is charged to your program, so it makes sense to use this flag !
  2. The MSB is well-documented. This means that you have used both informative notes within the details of the Observations, plus “Show to Observer” notes which will give the observer a summary of what you expect. The JAC will arrange a web page with some typical data in your observing mode, but you should be as clear as possible in the notes which pop up for observers what your expectations are and whatever issues you foresee.  Your support astronomer will vet your program as it enters the database, and will veto your observations if they are insufficiently well-documented. 
  3. Instrument components are consistent from observation to observation within the MSB (this is usually, though not always, the intention). Note that for most instruments, the instrument component is global to the MSB (see “Inheritance”) and so does not need to be copied into each Observation.  
  4. flats and arcs, if present, have all had their settings set to the default for the instrument configuration chosen (beware of making a small change, for example altering a slit width, and finding that your flats are overexposed).
  5. darks, if present, have had their settings set to the detault for the instrument configuration chosen. For example, a change in the estimated magnitude of an imaging standard can change the exposure time and this must be reflected in the dark.
  6. target list components have been set up, with guide stars in the case of faint objects

The best way to do this is to set up one MSB, adhering to the guidelines above, and use the validation button to check it. This will pick up common faults like dark exposures being inconsistent. If you’re still uncertain, your support scientist is available to help with queries. Then (depending on the details of your program) you may be able to just copy/paste the MSB and edit target and instrument components to generate the rest.

Estimates of Execution Time

Your program builds up its total estimated elapsed time in stages.

Observes can be set to a number of repeats; generally this is one for UKIRT instruments such as Michelle and UIST.
Repeat iterators specify the number of times the Observes within them are carried out. 
Observations show you the estimated time of the sequence they contain.
MSBs give you the estimated time of the Observations they contain – in this case the science observation plus any calibrations observation. To be clear: this is the estimated time of that single MSB. 
Science Programs give you the estimated time of all MSBs they contain, including the number of repeats. So if you have a 1hr MSB and you set the MSB counter to 2, your MSB estimated time will be 1hr and your Science Program time will show 2hrs.

NOTE: while these estimates are quite accurate (to within 10%) in most cases, there are circumstances in which they can fail to represent the time taken to execute your MSBs. Example include programmes with large offsets (the crosshead takes a finite length of time to reach its guide star). It is not possible to take every such vagary into account in the time estimation. In the example quoted, the overhead of a sky nod could be brought down to roughly zero by ensuring that the guide star could not be reached in the sky position, but the OT cannot be expected to know what guide stars can be reached and which cannot. You should check your programme’s quoted timing for obvious anomalies and contact your support astronomer if you find any. Experience shows that accessing your flexed data early and looking at elapsed and on-source times can show up efficiency faults at the 5-10% level. Since this can cost you an MSB or two at the end of your programme, you should make every effort to make such comparisons as early as possible in the semester, once data start to appear.

Saving and Submitting your Program

On completion of the program (and in general it’s also wise to do this as you go along), click  file…save in the program window, and save the program to a local xml file (name it <whatever>.xml ; note that if you want the .xml suffix then you have to type it). From this version on, the system will automatically save a <whatever.xml.BAK>backup file which is the program as it was at the time of the last successful save. 

To store to the summit database, click database…store on the program window. Once in the database, your support scientist will vet the program, using a checklist which covers the issues above. 

Tip: while editing your science program, its title is displayed in italics, but it switches to normal font upon saving. When you edit any component of your Science Program its title changes font to indicate that you need to save your work.

Click-by-click worked example

The above gives a basic idea of the OT’s capabilities and how to use them. Here is a click-by-click example of the creation of a simple MSB. Further, and better, examples are available in the instrument-specific web pages. The following covers the case of production of a UIST spectroscopy MSB.

ActionMenus, clicks etc.ImageComment
Create a blank science programMain File…New
Open the appropriate libraryMain File…<library>
Insert and fill in Site Quality componentFrom the left tool bar in the science program windowThis is the pull-down menu under the “component” button
Insert and fill in (if necessary) Scheduling constraints componentFrom the same components list. The science program panel after insering the two admin components
Find a library MSB which matches your needsWe’re doing a point source observation.
Copy and Paste into the program areaHighlight the appropriate MSB by clicking on it once. Then click “copy”, move to the main program, highlight the item after which you want it to appear, and click “paste”Alternatively, drag and drop – see the “Advanced Topics and Usage notes” in the main document
Fill in the administrative details in the main program windowClick on “Science Program” and use the editor panel which appears on the rightThe title entered will be reflected at the top of the program display panel also. See the next step.
Give the first MSB a nameHighlight the MSB and type into the MSB editor text field.The title entered replaces the MSB name given in the library. 
Open the MSB up and enter target detailsHighlight the global target component – close to the top of the MSB, then use the editor panel on the rightYou can use name resolution
 after typing in the target name here. Beware of this in the case of extragalactic objects, where there can be big differences between, e.g. Radio and optical positions.
Set the instrument configurationHighlight the global instrument component – usually second item in the library MSBAll UKIRT instruments have source brightness fields from which suitable settings are derived.
Default the flat and arc settingsHighlight the flat component, and click “Use defaults” in the editor pane. Then do the same for the Arc.This is a spectroscopy-specific example but similar operations are necessary for short-wave imaging (setting the DARK exposure time).
Enter standard star name and resolve itHighlight the standard star target info and enter the name, then resolve.Note that since semester 03B, name resolution no longer replaces the name you entered with the Simbad name.
Set a suitable imaging-acquisition exposure timeHighlight the acquisition eye, then follow the instructions in the NOTE just above it.This is a UIST spectroscopy-specific operation which does not apply to other observing modes or instruments.
Ensure that the Standard Star exposure time is correctly setHighlight the UIST iterator in the sequence and select the target magnitude. This is an iterator. It’s needed because the UIST component is global to the MSB but the Standard will (usually) be brighter than the target.
Set the acquisition exposure time for the science targetAs two steps above but in the Target Observation rather than the Standard Star Observation.
Check that the science target offsets are correct.The default settings move the target by integral number of detector rows but may be too small for extended targets.


At this point the program is broadly ready to go, though if you click the Validation button you will find that you have forgotten to include a “Show to Observer” note, and that guide stars remain to be set up. 

Once those are done, you are ready to either clone the MSB into a complete program, or copy it and edit new targets in manually, or whatever else your programme demands.

III. Advanced Topics and Usage Notes

Here we outline some facilities which are either more advanced than a typical program is likely to require, or more than the beginner user might expect to use.

AND and OR logic

Most programs will be catered for by simply creating a set of MSBs and at most specifying their relative priorities and perhaps some scheduling information. However, more complex programs can be built up using the logic provided by “AND” and “OR” folders. The basic function of these folders is as follows:

Allows you to select one or more (default is one) MSBs from a list. If the default is used, then once an MSB from the folder has been done, the rest are marked as unavailable.

Allows you to simply group MSBs together. In general, ANDs make most sense when contained within an OR folder, allowing you to have two completely separate programs (potentially with many MSBs each), only one of which gets done. For example, you may have a set of targets in two separate star-forming regions, don’t need data in both but do need one region to be completed. ANDs inside an OR is the way to do this.

An example of the use of these folders:

Here, for the sake of illustration, a PI has managed to convince the TAG that there is merit in granting time to two rather different projects under the same banner. The resulting science program contains two OR folders. These do not interact with one another; completing the first OR doesn’t mean that the second OR (which is at the same indent level) does not get done. All being well, the PI will obtain data on both sub-projects; the details of what they get is catered for by the AND and OR logic.

Within the (simpler) second OR folder, the PI has asked for two out of three MSBs to be done. Depending on the timing, these could be Oph-elias 29 and Oph-BK44, or some other pair from the three. The important point is that once two are done, the third is marked as unavailable. Selection of the number to do is done in the OR folder’s window.

Within the first OR folder, the PI has required only one of three things to happen: either (i) the single MSB on NGC4594 knot 3, or (ii) one of the two programs on knots in NGC4565 or NGC4321. So the minute an MSB from the NGC4565 program is done, both the NGC4594 single MSB and the NGC4321 program is marked as invalid.


ANDs were designed specifically to go inside ORs (to allow you to group MSBs) but are also available to group MSBs in general (to allow them to share instrument configs etc).

Folder TypeCan Contain
ANDs, MSBs, Observations or general components (inheritance works in an OR folder)
Anything except an OR or AND

Drag and drop

Components, observations and entire MSBs can be dragged from place to place, though many users will find the cut and paste described above quite usable. Drag and drop works in much the same way as it does in most graphical user interfaces, but note the following points of protocol:

– press ctrlduring (after commencing) a drag and the move becomes a copy. Note again that the key press has to happen after you commence dragging the object.

– click on one object, then hold down shift and click on a second; everything between the first and second inclusive become selected.

What happens when you drop a dragged item is indicated by an arrow symbol:

Dropping a dragged item (for example, a target component) with the arrow pointing diagonally means that it is dropped at one indent level higher than, and therefore becomes a part of, the highlighted item (in this case, the MSB).

Dropping a dragged item (for example, an Observation) with the arrow pointing vertically down means that it is inserted into the science program at the same indent level as the highlighted item (in this case, the MSB).

You can control which of the symbols you get by horizontal movements of the dragging cursor; in the above example, you would find that the symbol changed as the cursor was dragged past the “B” in “MSB Folder (1X)”.

Usage through a firewall

If your Institution connects to the internet via a firewall, you may find that connections to catalogue servers etc. fail. If this is the case, then you can specify your proxy server and port number on the OT preferences window (accessed via the File menu). For a networked installation, you can edit the file ot.cfg and supply the server and port on the lines supplied towards the end of that file.

Specifying Spectroscopic Standard Stars

If your programme is spectroscopic,  and you wish to specify standard stars yourself rather than leaving the choice to the summit observer, we suggest the following rules as a way to guarantee a reasonable airmass match to your target observations:

  1. Determine an RA appropriate for the mid-point of your observations by subtracting half the target observation time from your target RA.  e.g. If your target has RA of 12 34 56 and your total observation time on target is 40 minutes, then your standard should have RA ~ 12h 15m. 
  2. Look for a standard with the RA calculated as above and a similar Declination to your target, using either the UKIRT Standard star lists, the Standard star library in the OT, or the Gemini Standard star finder. Try to get as close as possible but at least within about 10 minutes in time for the RA and 10 degrees for the Declination.  F stars are preferable to G or A as A have strong hydrogen lines and G may have molecular bands.  A types are preferable to G if there are no suitable F stars.  

Guide stars and acquisition scenarios

Your guide star may be chosen from plate material which is many years old, and even if more recent it may have surprisingly poor positional accuracy (Guide Star Catalogue sources for instance can have systematic errors of up to two arcseconds depending on their location). In these cases, the details of how you centre on your source and guide star can be important depending on your mode of observing, slit width etc. 

Guide-star brightness (Cassegrain)
Off-axis, UKIRT can guide down to 18th magnitude (moon and cloud dependent). the UKIRT guide camera operates effectively in the R band. Rule of thumb: if your guide star clearly illuminates 9 pixels in the position-editor DSS image with default cut levels, then it will probably be guidable (this is clearly colour-dependent so this cannot be guaranteed). If your guide star has a hint of diffraction spikes in the DSS image then it is about 14th magnitude and will be easiy guidable – it will also appear in the Guide Star Catalogue (in the Position editor: Catalog…Catalogs, followed by Catalog…Browse). 

Note that for reasons of thermal hygiene, we currently use a gold reflective patch in the centre of the field of view; this is larger than the UIST detector FOV and vignettes approximately 2.5 magnitudes of guide star signal. So if you need to use a guide star close to the science field, please ensure that it is brighter than (say) 15.5 magnitudes in the R band.

Guide-star brightness (WFCAM)
WFCAM’s guider functions well down to 16th magnitude but much below that requires unhealthily low guide frequencies and image quality suffers. We suggest sticking to R magnitudes (again, the guide camera works in an approximation to the R band) of 16th or brighter.

We have a set of recommended methods; CGS4-specific details are given here, . You should identify in an observation Note which of the scenarios identified in the flowchart applies. 

For example, if you are observing with CGS4, and neither your guide star nor your target have accurate positions, but the relative offset between them is accurate, then you should identify S15 as the acquisition scenario (in all cases you should assume that the aperture position is known or has been recently determined). 

For UIST, acquisition is via the imaging mode and peakup is not in general necessary. 
GeneralTo help centring guide stars, the pick object option under Catalogs in the position editor is useful compared to positioning the cursor over the star and clicking. In general, stars selected this way come up relatively well centered and require little adjustment of the crosshead or telescope. This speeds observing still further and is particularly helpful for blind pointing to objects with good coordinates.

Polarimetry users should also be aware that the waveplate holder blocks much of the available field of view for off-axis guide stars, as described in the IRPOL user manual.

Instrument-Specific Pages

Some of the UKIRT instrument pages have instrument-specific notes on preparation using the OT. These are linked to below for reference. Please note that there is other information on instrument usage in the individual instrument documents, which you are expected to have read before preparing your observations.

WFCAMWide-field imager
UIST (im)
UIST (sp)
UIST (ifu)
UIST (im pol)
UIST (spec pol)
Imager/spectrometer/integral-field spectrometer/polarimeter/coronagraph
CGS4Mixed-mode 1-5 micron spectrometer

IV. Release-Specific Notes

Updates in the January 2009 (09A WFCAM) version

  • None

Updates in June 2008 (08A Cassegrain block) version

  • Additional changes to the UIST configuration files for thermal imaging with the new controller
  • Revised offsets for nod8 (1024 array)
  • Revised default exposure times documented in the thermal imaging notes
  • FLIP recipes in the WFCAM library and DR component

Updates in November 2007 version

Updates include

  • New standards for Y band (UFTI & UIST)
  • Corrected display of IRPOL orientation in the position editor
  • In the UIST spectroscopy template library, slides in the offset iterator for point source spectroscopy now move the source into the upper half of the array, where the array sensitivity (QE) is slightly higher.

Updates in April 2006 version

Updates include

  • Assorted fixes to Science Program Validation.
  • CGS4 and UIST slit position angles are rounded to a single decimal place.
  • Upgrade to JSky 2.5
  • It is no longer possible to accidently put sequences before components causing invalid XML to be produced.
  • Copying survey containers get properly cloned.
  • Changes to the X-offsets of RA get applied as [ X-offset x cos( Dec ) ]
  • When targetting, the RA and Dec no longer get corrupted causing drift.
  • Initial removal of ODB and OM code.
  • Removal of SERVER options on the command line as part of ODB code removal.
  • XML Science Programs can now be opened from the command-line.
  • When opening files locally, the default working directory is the directory the user is in when the OT started.
  • Removal of OMP as an option as it is now the default, as a result the OT no longer supports SGML.

Updates in 05A version

The 05A version of the OT was released at the beginning of February, and caters specifically for WFCAM proposals. All other 05A projects can continue to use the 04A OT unless they wish to take advantage of new (non-WFCAM) features. 

NOTE – these updates will migrate to the main document or to the relevant instrument page over time. Headers will be left here.

WFCAM-specific updates

  • WFCAM components have been added.  This includes a WFCAM instrument component, and WFCAM calibration eye, microstep iterators and DR recipe components.
  • Survey container added. This allows you to specify multiple targets in a single container.  This component also allows you to elect to only observe some number from the list of targets.  While it is primarily for use with the Survey Definition Tool, it can also be used on its own. It can either be placed at the top level of a science program  similar to an MSB), in which case it can contain at most 1 MSB (acting as an MSB iterator); or it can be placed inside an MSB and can contain any number of observations (acting as a target iterator).
  • The target component now allows you to create “named skies”.  That is,  at the bottom of the target component where you used to be able to select “GUIDE”, you can now also add “SKY” and/or “SKY_GUIDE”.  The sky position can input as either an absolute value, or as an offset from the  base.  If you don’t want to use it, don’t – in which case you can treat sky “eyes” just as you used to.  However, using them does allow some additional functionality (described below).  Each sky position specified will be called SKYn, where n is an integer starting at 0. Similarly there is a SKY_GUIDE which will allow you to guide on a patch of sky.  Again, this is primarily useful for survey work. 
  • The sky “eye” has changed to support the named skys.  If you don’t specify a named sky in the target, this will have exactly the same behaviour as the old sky eye, though it will look different.  If you do specify a named sky, the GUI allows you to select which sky you want to observe.  Depending on how you defined the sky, its behaviour is somewhat different.  If you specify an absolute sky position, you will always go to that position.  If you specify it as an offset, then the three checkboxes on the user interface come into play.  These give you the following options:

a) No offset – you will always go to the offset position relative to the BASE target

b) Follow offset – if your target is inside an offset iterator, the sky position be offset relative to the BASE offset, scaled by a user defined amount.  So for example if you had an offset iterator with two component (0.0, 0.0) and (0.0, 20.0) and your sky had an offset of (0.0, 60.0), then the sky positions observed would be at (0.0, 60.0) and (0.0, 80.0) with a scaling factor of 1.0, or ( 0.0, 60.0) and (0.0, 70.0) for a scaling factor of 0.5)

c) Random offset – the sky offset will be at some random position centered on the defined sky offset relative to the BASE, and with a box defined by box size.

General updates

  • MSB’s marked as REMOVED can now be UNREMOVED and their count is maintained.
  • On the site quality component, a better explanation of the cloud and moon constraints is given, and a new constraint, J-Band sky brightness, is added.
  • The 150 l/mm disperser has been removed from CGS4
  • The chop settings tab on the target component has been disabled.
  • Validation now uses an XML schema.  There may be some side-effects of this change which we have yet to uncover, and user feedback will be appreciated. Since this is a web service any changes will not require a new OT release.
  • More than 1 observer note can now be specified (but they can not be put inside a sequence). At the summit, these notes are concatenated.
  • Offset positions are now displayed around the position of the guide star as well as around the target. This helps when deciding whether a guide star will fall into an inaccessible area  Guide star offsets are displayed in blue. Highlight the offset iterator to display these offsets.

Updates in 04A version

  • Time estimates now report both total time and time without calibrations (estimated time)
  • Improved schema validation for both telescopes. Validation is now performed against the TOML schema over the web (Note:
    Failure of validation does not indicate that submission will fail). Note that to validate against the most recent criteria requires you to have a working network connection.
  • Improved layout on various components – now requires at least Java version 1.4.1
  • On start-up, we now check to ensure that the correct version of Java is being used
  • On submission and retrieval to/from the database, pressing ‘enter’ after the password now behaves the same as pressing the “Commit” button.

Known Bugs

Preference SettingsBug:

File…Preference setting for prompt-on-close is not effective. Closing an altered science program window from its file menu always results in a prompt for whether you intend to do this. 
OT Help SystemBug:

Scrolling in the OT bundled help system may be intermittently broken.  We recommend using the online (web) guide rather than the bundled help.
Position EditorBug:

Occasionally fails to pick up the correct position when plotting a target. This results in a “base position is out of view” message on the position editor screen and either a blank field or an image from cache. 

Work around:

This can be worked around by closing the position editor, switching to another target component and back again, and relaunching the editor.
Variable name too long on startup

Added Jan-2006

You get the following error message:  set: Variable name too long  when starting up on a Solaris machine.


change the top line of the ot script (usually /somewhere/ompot/bin/ot)


#!/bin/csh -f
#!/bin/tcsh -f

(note that this assumes you have tcsh installed).