SOAR Telescope suspends science operations (with updates)

Updated March 26, 2020
Updated April 1, 2020
Updated April 27, 2020
Updated May 7, 2020
Update May 18, 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 have been suspended for all other NSF OIR Lab and tenant telescopes on Cerro Pachón and Cerro Tololo, among others. At this point no end date for the shutdown can be specified.

The NOIR Lab announcement and updates can be found here.

As of March 18, SOAR is safely shut down and all staff are at 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.

Once we determine is it safe to resume operations, it should be possible to resume operation fairly quickly, though the exact timing will depend on the duration of the shutdown and intervening events.

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

Situation Updates:

April 1 -
A minimum crew went to the telescope yesterday (31st) to see how things were holding up after two weeks of shutdown. Everything seemed stable. Consumables (diesel and liquid nitrogen) should last for many weeks. Unless there is an episode of bad weather or specific failure, we will likely stay away until late April.

April 27 -
On April 22, the same minimum crew visited the telescope to repeat inspections and check consumable levels. No specific date has been set for the next trip, but it is likely to be in early May. Since winter is approaching, the crew brought winter gear for people and vehicles with them to La Serena.

May 7 -
We have begun detailed planning for the effort required to return to limited night-time science operations. No restart date has been set at this time, but we want to have staff and equipment prepared when that date arrives. We will continue to provide updates through this page; additional information will be available on the NOIRLab page linked at the start of this article.

May 18 -
As of May 11, we are making weekly trips to the mountain with no more than 4 people (2 vehicles, with PPE). They continue general inspections, and have been performing maintenance tasks that can be carried out safely and that can be done well ahead of any restart of operations. This frequency is sufficient to ensure that when the time comes to resume operation, there will be no big surprises, while minimizing risk to the crew performing the work.

More general updates can be found via the NOIRLab link at the beginning of the article.

Jay Elias, Director