Alternative Site Observing

Cahill Remote Observing Facilities (ROF) are closed until further notice in response to the present health emergency, so it is necessary to accommodate atypical observing situations. In circumstances where ROF are inaccessible or impractical, W.M Keck Observatory (WMKO) and Palomar Observatory support Alternative Site observing on an as-authorized basis, including observing from home.

1. Keck RO:

WMKO requires Alternative Site (AS) observers to follow these instructions:

  1. Submit a new remote observing request from your Keck observer login page and select “Other” as the site. We request that you submit these new requests as soon as practical.
  2. In your request, indicate where you will be observing from in the comments (e.g. “home”).
  3. In your request, indicate who will be the critical observer (and the primary point of contact) for the observing team. Give their name and email.

For AS observing please designate one critical observer and one backup observer who will be the points of contact for your observing team. They should be experienced observers if at all possible. We will work with designated observers to configure computer connection to allow AS observing through VNC (Virtual Network Computing) protocols. Designated observers can help other observing team members connect to observing sessions as time and network resources permit.

Please use AS observing judiciously, as it places additional administrative burdens on observatory staff: e.g. network security requires alternative observing site network parameters to be authenticated by WMKO or Palomar staff. To help us manage this additional administrative load, please do NOT contact WMKO Support Astronomer staff before four (4) days in advance of your forthcoming session, or until your designated Support Astronomer reaches out to you. When you do contact WMKO staff, please clearly indicate the date of and Program ID for your scheduled observing session. These parameters are important —keeping the lines of communication clear and allow us to prioritize observers who have immediate needs.

Keck Observing Session Connection Methods

1.1. WMKO AV Connection: Zoom

As with regular remote observing sessions, videoconference connection between the observing team and the support astronomer/telescope operator is required for AS observing. This videoconference connection shall be made using the Zoom videoconference package.

Each Keck telescope has its own unique Zoom meeting ID. The ID can be obtained from the associated support astronomer for your run, users should wait for instructions from WMKO staff before initiating a Zoom call.

Caltech provides Caltech-specific Zoom package instructions.

1.2. WMKO Computer/Instrument Connection

The following two methods are available to AS observers for computer/instrument interface and control:

1.2.1. Keck Remote Observing (KRO)

Josh Walawender of WMKO has developed a package called Keck Remote Observing (KRO—thanks Josh!) that allows direct control connections between AS observer computers and Keck instrument computers. WMKO recommends KRO for most Keck AS observing. KRO emulates the WMKO connection configuration used in remote observing rooms like Cahill ROF. A WMKO (or Palomar) network firewall exception is created for the connecting computer and then VNC windows are tunneled through the connecting machine to Keck instrument computers using the native vncviewer client.

KRO is supported on MacOS and linux-based platforms; it is unclear if and when MS Windows can be supported. Windows users should refer to the Double-VNC method below.

Please follow KRO installation instructions in the git hub repository to install and configure KRO:

KRO git hub repository.

KRO Tips and Tricks:

  • Make changes ONLY to the local_config.yaml file and NOT the keck_vnc_config.yaml.
  • On macOS you may need to use the escape character (/) when pointing to a path with a blank space in it.
  • Email your ssh-key to mainland_observing at keck.hawaii.edu as soon as you have been contacted by WMKO staff regarding your run.
  • Contact Richard Walters or Patrick Shopbell for Keck firewall addresses and passwords.
1.2.2. Double-VNC

The Double VNC method uses a chain of VNC connections to take advantage of existing Keck scripts and firewall configurations running on remote observing computers in Cahill ROF. Observers typically use the Remmina VNC client for Linux and MacOS or Real VNC on Windows to connect to the Cahill machines and then follow the link below:

Modified VNC instructions.

Double-VNC Tips and Tricks:

  • High resolution screens can sometimes adversely impact the scaling of VNC clients. The recommended VNC clients (Remmina and Real VNC) seem to handle this situation better than other alternatives.
  • VNC connection tests to Cahill ROF should only be done during daylight hours in order to minimize interference with active observing sessions/other observers.

2. Palomar/Hale RO:

As of 26 May Palomar is authorized by Caltech to operate under limited operations guidelines, including no external personnel allowed on the observatory compound, and necessitating all Hale/P200 observations be made by remote observing.

Please see these instructions for Palomar Alternate Sites Remote Observing.

Hale support astronomer and the telescope operator communications are made using Zoom. The support staff will provide the Zoom meeting ID number in advance of your observing session.

3. Resource List:

These resources are relevant to supporting AS observing:

Please share your feedback on this page at the COO Feedback portal

Alt Site Obs / v 0.1.2
Last updated: 18 September 2020 RSW/ACM/AFB/CMH