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Vague generalities such as "increasing our understanding" is not sufficient; the committee looks for specific questions that will be unambiguously addressed by the observations. Another issue of concern is the description of a clear path from the taking of the data through the reduction and analysis that will permit answers to be obtained. Other questions that often arise are whether or not similar programs have been done or are being done elsewhere, and if previous observing programs have resulted in the data being published in a timely manner.


The scientific case for observing time should establish two 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.

The technical case should demonstrate that the proposed measurements are technically feasible, given the performance of the proposed instrument(s), in the time requested. The number of target objects required should be justified.
Applications must include complete lists of the objects to be observed, their magnitudes and their approximate equatorial coordinates. Applications without such lists will be rejected.
Specific points which must be addressed:
  • How the proposed observations relate to the applicants previous work, and to other work in the field.
  • Why the Keck Observatory and its site on Mauna Kea, are particularly important or even essential for the proposed observations.
  • The spatial, spectral and temporal range and resolution required.
  • Estimates of the signal-to-noise required and expected, and justification for the number of nights requested for the entire program.
  • If new or unusual techniques are to be used, make clear how observations and calibrations will be obtained.
  • Brief description of the status of large telescope time that has been awarded during the past 2 years, such as progress with data reduction and publications.
  • Any other information which may assist the TAC in evaluating the scientific merits of the proposal and its suitability for the Keck Telescopes.

The presentation should be aimed at someone who is not a specialist in the area of astronomy under study. A specific scientific case, rather than a broad general one, is usually more successful.


The members of the panels must make their decisions in a limited amount of time, and based on a limited amount of information. It is incumbent on the proposer to provide the panel with as much relevant information as possible, in a form which can be digested rapidly. Write clearly and concisely. Check that the order of the text follows the logic of the proposal. Make sparing use of emphasis, bold face, and exclamation marks.

Scientific justification

A possible structure of an observing proposal is as follows. The first few sentences sketch the general area in which the proposal belongs, and the important questions of current research in this area. As the panel members will be knowledgeable in this area, this sketch can be very brief, and should serve mainly to indicate to the panel the general interest of the proposer in his/her field. For example, if you write a proposal on M dwarfs, X-ray binaries, or an S0 galaxy, you may safely assume that the panel members know what these are, but you should indicate what you think are the important questions that current research on M dwarfs, X-ray binaries, or S0 galaxies tries to answer.


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3 November 2003
McDonald Observatory · The University of Texas at Austin · Austin, Texas 78712
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