SOAR Telescope suspends science operations (revised and updated)

Last update, June 9, 2020

Due to the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, the SOAR Telescope suspended all science operations after the night of Monday, March 16. Science operations were suspended for all other NSF OIR Lab and tenant telescopes on Cerro Pachón and Cerro Tololo. At this point no end date for the shutdown can be specified. This news item will be updated every two weeks, or as circumstances warrant.

The NOIR Lab announcement and updates can be found here.

As of March 18, SOAR was safely shut down and all staff were sent home. We appreciate the effort of all involved in getting the telescope to this state quickly. Scientific staff in particular are tele-commuting and can still be contacted with questions. We will post periodic updates on the situation; the NOIR Lab site referenced above should also be consulted.

Starting in late March, we have made periodic visits (once per week or less often) with a minimum crew to perform inspections and associated critical maintenance. We had our first snowfall of the winter on June 3, which did not impact the facility.

At the same time, we have been working on detailed planning for resumption of operations, including staff training and acquisition of additional protective equipment and supplies.

Once we determine is it safe to resume operations, it should be possible to resume operation relatively quickly, though the exact timing will depend on the duration of the shutdown and intervening events. Re-opening Cerro Pachón requires coordination between multiple programs.

We will notify scheduled observers in advance of resumption of night-time operation. We expect to provide at least 2 weeks notice, based on the estimates of time needed to restore minimum night-time operations at the summit. Initial observing will likely include all facility instruments, but will be entirely remote (including scientific staff support). If you are reading this page, and there is no mention of a possible restart date, any such date is 3 weeks out, or potentially much longer.

We encourage all our users to keep themselves and their families safe as well; we look forward to working productively together in the future.

Jay Elias, Director