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Guide for Visiting Astronomers

Dear Observer,

After you have successfully proposed for NOT time, you will travel to the Canary Islands to obtain your data. This document offers a number of suggestions and guidelines to the visiting astronomer to make his or her observing run as painless and as productive as possible.

As we do not have night assistants you will need to know how to open, close, and in general operate the telescope. Therefore, please do not forget to also read through the Observers Cookbook for a comprehensive guide to telescope operations. It is also a good idea to read the NOT FAQ, which contains most of the information, you will be given during your introduction to the telescope.

If you would like to give a 30-minute presentation of your work to the telescope staff and interested astronomers on La Palma, then we will be delighted to host this presentation/seminar. We are always interested to hear about visiting observer's work and will be happy to discuss our own. The seminar programme is jointly organised by TNG and NOT, and seminars are given in our new office in San Antonio. Please contact John Telting if you would like to make a presentation. Please help us show that the Nordic community does high quality work with its telescope!

Travel & Accommodation

NB: Visiting observers are expected to make their own way to the observatory, and should rent their own car.

During the winter and/or when the weather is bad we strongly advise people to contact the reception at the observatory (email:, phone: +34-92-405-500, mobile +34-609-554-576) before driving up. In general, the reception at the observatory should be contacted in case you have any doubts about travelling to the observatory, or between the Residencia and the telescope.

The car is necessary not only for transport between the airport and the observatory, but also for transport between the telescope and the Residencia (several km on steep, winding mountain roads) at the beginning and end of night and possibly at other times as well. We do not have staff to provide such transportation, and observers will also need to be able to reach safety in the Residencia in case of a sudden (snow)storm. See also Observers Health & Safety.

General Information about the Island, including maps, can be found here.

Car rental agencies::
Central de Reservas: Carretera Arrecife - Aeropuerto,
35550 San Bartolomé - Lanzarote - Islas Canarias
Tel: +34 928 597 019
Fax: +34 928 800 189
Aeropuerto de La Palma: Tel: +34 922 428 048
                   Autos Oasis
Centro Cancajos, 301
Los Cancajos, Breña Baja
Tel.: +34 922 434 409
Fax.: +34 922 435 076

Other major rental agencies (e.g. Hertz, AVIS) are also available on La Palma. Several of them can be found in the arrival hall at the airport.

Hotel accommodation:
Hotel Taburiente Playa
Playa los Cancajos
E-38712 Breña Baja
Tel. +34 922 181 277
Fax +34 922 181 243
      Hotel Castillete
Avda. Marítima 75
E-38700 Santa Cruz de La Palma
Tel. +34 922 420840.
      Hotel El Galeón
Ctra. El Galeón, 10
Santa Cruz de la Palma
Tel.: +34 922 411 000
      Hotel San Telmo
C/San Telmo, 5
Santa Cruz de la Palma
Tel.: +34 922 415 385
When booking, mention that you come to the NOT to get a reduced rate.

Budget Accommodation in Santa Cruz de La Palma:
Apartamentos La Fuente
(German and English spoken)
C/Anselmo Pérez de Brito, 49
Santa Cruz de la Palma
Tel.: +34 922 415 636
Fax: +34 922 412 303
Discount prices available for astronomers.
      Pensión La Cubana
(English spoken)
Calle O'Daly, 24
Santa Cruz de la Palma
Tel.: +34 922 411 354
Fax: +34 922 411 354

Accomodation at the Observatory:
To book a room at the Residencia, please fill in their room booking form available on their web page. Meals can be booked either directly at the reception desk or filling up a form that you can access from the previous link. The Residencia Reception Desk phone number is +34 922 405 500 and their fax is +34 922 405 501.

In case of problems with the bookings at Residencia, you may ask for our help contacting Raquel Lopez or Loida Fernandez Tel. +34 922 181114, Fax +34 922 434444

Temporary placement in Spain form

If you are going to work at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory for more than 8 days in a row, you must send a written notification of the temporary placement as a foreigner worker to the Spanish authorities before your arrival in the island, according to article 5 of Law 45/99 of the 29th November. The form you need to send is here: ODT PDF

Dirección Gral. De Trabajo
A/A Servicio de Promoción Laboral
C/Prolongacion Ramon y Cajal nº3
Edif. Salesianos Semisótano 1º Local5
38701 Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Or by fax: 34-922473746

What to Bring

Visiting astronomers should bring:

  • Money. You will need:
    • 30 euros in cash for the door key deposit (returned to you on departure)
    • Residencia bills may be paid with credit cards, cheques and cash (even of non-Spanish denomination).
  • Driver's license and passport.
  • Warm clothing, especially in winter.
    The Roque can get pretty nasty in the colder months. We do have a few coats and leggings which may be borrowed in case of problems.

Run Preparation

It is probably unnecessary to remind you of the need for adequate run preparation. This includes filling out the NOT Instrument Request Form (NIRF), a list of target coordinates, finder charts, calibration sources and standard stars. Some documentation is available at the telescope, including a couple of atlases, and the WWW will provide you with everything else you could need. However, the WWW is not always reliable, and we might not have the specific atlases you want, so please come prepared with the appropriate minimum material. NOT astronomy staff can advise you on the normal calibration requirements of our instruments, but they may not be experts on your particular scientific needs.

The details of your observing run are communicated to support staff via the NOT Instrument Request Form (NIRF, and usually pronounced as the word "nerf"). The support astronomer will use the contents of your submitted NIRF to configure your requested instrument, or from the information provided in your proposal if no NIRF is received. This will normally be done on the afternoon of the first night of your run, but some iteration with you may be necessary to establish the exact configuration if there are any ambiguities or special requests. Your support astronomer will not normally contact you before you submit a NIRF. It is therefore important that you fill out your NIRF well before the run, at latest, two weeks before your run. The NIRF has a box for you to indicate any special requirements you might have. Please think carefully here and note down anything which you think might help us. Do you have special access needs, or health problems? If so, note them here. Visiting astronomers are expected to make their own way to the Observatory, this means renting a car. If you cannot, for whatever reason, please say so here.

We offer a service by which you can create a catalogue of object coordinates over the WWW which is made available at the telescope after you submit it. We also have a facility by which you can check the visibility of your objects during your run. Your run can be made much more efficient and nasty surprises avoided by using these.

One point cannot be too strongly stated: READ THE DOCUMENTATION! The NOT's primary documentation source is the WWW. This may not be perfect, but there is certainly a great deal of information available with which we would like you to be familiar before arrival. Some of it may not become clear until you actually see the telescope, instrument or user interfaces, but you should make an effort to have an abstract idea of how things work.

Observers Health & Safety

Please read carefully through our Health & Safety Document before arriving at the telescope.

Upon arrival

Before driving up the mountain (especially in winter) check the condition of the road by phoning either our San Antonio Office (922 181114), the Residencia (922 405000) or the telescope (922 405663).

Your support astronomer will meet you at the telescope around 15:00 in Winter time and around 16:00 in Summer time on the first day of your observing run. You will then be introduced to the telescope and instrument. Do not be afraid to ask questions! Visiting astronomers are expected to run the telescope and instrument on their own after the introduction, and you should be fully confident that you can do this before letting your suppport astronomer retire for the night. Note that at least one staff member is always present on the mountain and your introducing astronomer and the astronomer in charge are always reachable by mobile phone for the duration of your run. Also, you can consult the NOT FAQ, if you have any questions.


Facilities on the ORM:
The main buildings are: Telescope Building (TB) and Service Building (SB).
The TB houses the telescope and all it's supporting equipment and machinery. It has a control room, an electronics room, a machine room; one floor up is the observing floor, and the crawl space below it. In the pillar is the cellar containing the sliprings, building bearings etc.
The SB has 1 main office, visitors office, mechanical workshop, electronics workshop, living/dining room with kitchenette, toilet, storage room, and a clean room. The SB also houses the UPS, diesel generator, and electrical distribution board.
Visitors can use the kitchen and use some space in one of the fridges for the duration of their stay.
In the TB visitors can find a stereo system and the NOT collection of CD's, it is possible to connect a laptop to the stereo.
Main meals are to be taken in the hotel (Residencia) further down the mountain site, at about 3km from the NOT, where accomodation is also provided.
The SB and TB are connected by a fibre optic link, and are also connected with the outside world through a 10Gbps link to the CALP (IAC HQ at La Palma) and all the way to Tenerife, and mainland Spain, using the Rediris NOVA network, which is Spain's access point to the European GÉANT research network.

Facilities at the sea level office (SLO):
The NOT has offices at a more convenient place near Santa Cruz and the Airport. If you want to reach us, We have pages with contact info and directions.

Visitors can connect their laptops to our network, or work at a station, for instance to reduce their data, make use of the archived data, and visit the other occupants of the building, the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG)

Computer Policy

The following is our policy for use of NOT computers by short term visitors. Following these rules will help protect our site's security and your observations:
  • Any and all use of the computers indicated by NOT staff is permitted in the pursuit of an observing run.
  • Non-profit, personal use of NOT computer facilities is permitted provided it does not interfere with observations, normal NOT work and provided all applicable laws are followed; this applies also to your own computer, if you bring it with you.
  • New software may not be installed on any Windows computer nor on any Linux machine except for temporary use in the guest accounts.
  • Only computers indicated by NOT staff may be used by short-term visitors.
  • Do not try to connect (telnet, rlogin, ssh, etc.) to other machines
    in the domain where you do not have an account.
  • Do not advertise any NOT passwords outside of the NOT.
  • Do not use instrument computers for anything except data acquisition.
  • Do not set 'xhost +' on any NOT computers.
  • Use 'ssh' for communications where possible.
  • When leaving a computer unattended for any length of time (i.e. more than over lunch), preferably log out but under no circumstances leave a screen-saver active which password locks the display.

Data Handling and Archiving

As of 2005 all data acquired using ALFOSC, NOTCAM, STANCAM, MOSCA, and FIES is written to DVD every morning by staff.
It is the duty of either the allocated support astronomer or duty technician to put the data on DVD. No one other than the above personnel may use the DVD burners in the NOT service building. DVDs for visiting observers will be placed in the visitors mailbox in the NOT service building.

One copy of each night's data of a run will be made for the visiting observer, free of charge. Each DVD holds a maximum of 4.7 Gbyte of data, generally one DVD is used per night. One copy of each night's data will additionally be made for the NOT archive. Observers requiring access to data from the NOT archive should contact NOT staff for details of the required procedure.

General information on NOT FITS-headers can be found here.

Problems at the telescope

If you run into problems, look first for information at the NOT FAQ page. If this does not solve your problem, do not hesitate to call our technical or astronomy support. Above all, do not attempt to do anything with the hardware or software which is not part of its normal operation. Rebooting computers, removing access panels, resetting fuses, etc. should be left to the staff. Even if it is obvious to you what the problem is and how to fix it, do not do so without at least informing a member of NOT staff. To improve the operation of the telescope, please fill in a Fault report in case you encounter any problem.

The NOT is one of the most reliable telescopes in the world. Nevertheless, we do occasionally experience problems and this may happen during your observing run. If it does, please be as patient as you can, our staff will do their best to get you back on the sky as soon as humanly possible.

Service and override programmes

As part of its remit, the NOT executes a number of service and override observing programmes. These may interrupt your own observations. If they do, you will be told the exact limits of time which the programmes may absorb and after they have been completed, the telescope will be returned to you. Occasionally, visiting astronomers themselves are asked to make the required observations. If so, you will be provided with complete instructions and you will never be asked to do anything which is beyond your competence.

We realise that it can be frustrating to have some of your scheduled telescope time taken away by a service or override programme. Nevertheless, you are awarded NOT time on the understanding that this may happen. The local NOT staff are not to blame. If you have a problem with the policy, we recommend you communicate your grievance to the director (Thomas Augusteijn).

Closure conditions

As part of your introduction, you will be told the weather conditions under which you must actively protect the telescope from possible damage. These include wind speed, humidity and dust limits for closing the side ports, observing downwind, and closing up the telescope. The telescope control system includes a facility for automatically forcing the telescope to point downwind, or close the dome if these parameters are exceeded for a significant amount of time. There is some leeway here so that you may, for example, complete a particularly important exposure before abiding by the closedown rules. However, if you wait too long, you will be overridden anyway, and the night logs will show that an automatic override was instigated.

It is rare that observers are found to abuse the telescope in this manner and we do not mean to be draconian with these automatic measures. However, we are proud and protective of our telescope and aim to maintain it in top condition for all our observers.

Bad weather

If the weather gets really bad, do not stay at the telescope, go down to the residencia. Particularly if it is wet and then freezes, it can be very difficult, even dangerous to attempt any movement to or from the telescope. In general, don't take unnecessary risks, your safety is more valuable to us than one night's data!

End of Night Report

At the end of each night's observing, we ask you to complete an end-of-night report. This includes pulldowns to indicate the rough amount of time lost to any problems and the observing conditions you encountered.

There are also three text fields in which we ask you to summarise problems, comments and results you obtained. Specific details of problems should be submitted in a Fault report. These fault reports can be submitted at any time.

End of Run Report

At the end of the run, there is one last report we ask you to file: the end-of-run report. This little report is one of the most important but least appreciated parts of your run. It is the primary route by which we measure the degree of satisfaction, or frustration, experienced by our observers. It is your opportunity to make your feelings about the NOT known, good or bad. Please take that opportunity. If you do not, we cannot know how to improve for your next visit and we do not know what we are doing right already.

Again, it might be unfair to ask you to fill this form out with any degree of eloquence at the end of your last night's observing, particularly if you have had an unproductive run. Therefore, you can also wait until the next day, or even your return to your home institute.

Above all, please say something, even if it is just to say how good or bad the coffee was, at least then we know you notice us!

Accessing the NOT archive

Should your copy of the data suffer any accident, we can send you a replacement copy from the archive.

Credit NOT in published papers

Documenting the published scientific output from the NOT is an important part of our reporting duties and essential for our continued existence. Therefore, authors who publish papers wholly or partially based on data collected at the NOT MUST credit the use of the telescope with the following acknowledgement:

"Based on observations made with the Nordic Optical Telescope, operated by the Nordic Optical Telescope Scientific Association at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, La Palma, Spain, of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias."

EU flag Authors having obtained data through the OPTICON Trans-National Access programme MUST bring the following additional acknowledgement:
"The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement No. 312430 (OPTICON)."

Back to top Last modified: 19-Jan-2017