Changes to the Arecibo Observatory Proposal Policies and Procedures

This short summary covers the more major changes to our system, which took effect from the September 1, 2016, deadline, and the rationale behind them. Please see the full Proposal Guidelines and the FAQ for more information.

We started from the position that the current system (most recently updated in 2012) is basically sound, but has shown a few weaknesses that we wished to address. We also wanted to fully review our online documentation, which was last fully updated c. 2007, and ensure it was properly aligned with current policies.

The 2012 update did not address Space and Atmospheric Science (SAS) proposals; we are now bringing all proposals under a single system which requires some modifications to be made to the policies to ensure they include circumstances unique to SAS. We also want to move to a new proposal handling backend – so we need to define the requirements beforehand.

The basics of the system remain unchanged – there will be two proposal deadlines each year with proposals being sent for review by anonymous external referees followed by an evaluation by the Arecibo Scheduling Advisory Committee (ASAC), which consists of both AO staff and external members. ASAC will assign letter grades, which are used by the Telescope Scheduler to draw up the telescope schedule.

The new policies make some changes to the grading system. A and B are unchanged, but C-graded proposals will return to being regarded as “filler” with D-grade being “rejected”. This will give the Telescope Scheduler more flexibility in finding projects to fill small gaps in the schedule.

A small change to telescope deadlines is that proposals will now be accepted from the call for proposals until the deadline, rather than any time before the deadline as at present. This makes the handling of proposals easier, and we virtually never received any regular proposals prior to the call anyway.

There are also some changes to Commensal proposals. These are now taken into account by ASAC when deciding on the grade to be given for telescope time, whereas previously only the primary project was graded. It is up to ASAC to decide how much weight to give a commensal proposal in grading – often ASAC are the only ones to see both the primary and commensal projects (e.g. when a pulsar project is commensal with a non-pulsar primary). In doing this, commensal proposals never drag down a primary proposal – grades can only go up. However commensal proposals can still be rejected if they do not justify the required use of Observatory resources.

We have introduced the category of &lsquop;Continuing Proposals’. This are for projects with a track record of approval. This used for ongoing projects such as SAS World Days, large astronomy surveys, and NASA’s core asteroid observations. These proposals only have to submit a cover sheet and a report (up to three pages) to ASAC every year, rather than go through detailed refereeing. ASAC decided which projects get ‘continuing%rsquo; status and will normally specify for how many years a project will be continued. ASAC can also choose to remove it without prejudice if it is felt, for instance, that a project has not been reviewed recently. Continuing status for astronomical surveys is normally only be granted up to the time allocation and/or date originally stated for completion of that survey.

Feedback from Arecibo Observatory Users' Committee (AOUC) members was that our previous page limits were, if anything, over generous. We have therefore reduced the page limit for standard proposals to 3 pages and for large proposals to 6 pages. However, we have also removed the reference list from this page limit, so you can put in as many references as you choose.

There have also been clarifications made and tidying up of the text in a number of places, in particular the division of proposals into ‘Standard’ (handled by ASAC) and ‘Director's Discretionary Time’ (handled by the director and deputy directors) has been made clearer but involves little, if any, change.

If you have any questions not answered here or in the other documents, please contact Robert Minchin at rminchin@naic.edu.