Observing Specialist

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Archive Date: 
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
The upcoming date less then 1 day.
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Institution Classification/Type: 
La Serena
Job Announcement Text: 

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of over 40 US institutions and three international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories. AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. AURA is responsible for managing the operations of the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, the National Solar Observatory, and the construction of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope under cooperative agreements with the National Science Foundation and operations of the Space Telescope Science Institute under contracts with NASA.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is an 8.4 m telescope designed to conduct an imaging survey over much of the southern sky repeatedly over a 10-year period.  The data from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will be unprecedented in scale and sensitivity to faint objects and will enable a wide range of science from exploration of the Time Domain to Dark Matter and Dark Energy. The sky survey from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory is sure to fundamentally change how humanity perceives and understands the Universe in which we live. 

Currently, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory is looking for an Observing Specialist with a broad range of skills from understanding software scripts in Python to hands on technical work with hardware and electronics. These specialists will also be cross trained to assist engineers, technicians and scientists in data analysis, characterization of hardware performance and routine maintenance operations. As a result, this position is more demanding and interesting than a “standard” telescope operator position. For example, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Observing Specialists will be trained and responsible for operating both the Primary Telescope and its cameras (commissioning instrument,ComCam and the main science camera LSSTCam) , as well as the Auxiliary Telescope, and for prompt assessment of environmental conditions, optical performance and image quality.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory has begun its system integration and commissioning phase.  The qualified candidate will assist the commissioning team in many aspects - assembly, testing and operation - either during the day or at night - with an eye towards helping with the definition on how the Vera C. Rubin Observatory is to be efficiently operated and maintained. 

Further, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory 1.2m calibration telescope (AuxTel) has seen first light and is undergoing its own commissioning effort.  The Observing Specialist is expected to take part in this commissioning work including understanding the control of the telescope and its spectroscopic instrument and the output data.  In this role the Observing Specialist will assist in refining operation procedures into user friendly and documented processes that will allow efficient operation of the AuxTel.

Initially, the successful candidate will start with working with the Auxiliary Telescope while slowly getting more involved in the main telescope components. This person will report to the Project Systems Scientist and Commissioning Manager (or designee). The Observing Specialist team is expected to grow into full operations in early 2023.


Essential Functions:

  • Support Nighttime commissioning by:
    • Developing and documenting procedures associated with the operations of the main Vera C. Rubin Observatory telescope and its Auxiliary Telescope (AuxTel) and associated subsystems.
    • Safely operating the AuxTel and/or the Main Telescope at night.
    • Becoming  familiar with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Main and Auxiliary Telescope operation and monitoring software and their respective GUIs.
    • Monitoring summit weather conditions, and executing predetermined actions when conditions are adverse for operations.
    • Monitoring Main and Auxiliary telescope subsystems’ health through subsystems GUIs.
    • Software basic troubleshooting and debugging. Vera C Rubin Observatory has an Engineering Facility Database (EFD) that will be used to help querying different telemetry from different subsystems and understand the sources of issues.
    • Basic evaluation of the delivered image and spectra quality.
    • Conducting both telescopes calibration (i.e. flat fielding)
    • The on duty Observing Specialists are also the primary authors of the nightly observing report that consists of their nightly log entries and automated technical assessments derived from the EFD, including fault reporting.
  • Supporting Daytime commissioning by: 
    • Participating in some daytime software test activities.
    • Acquire basic knowledge of all the subsystems to understand their functions and operation.
    • Participate in the development, review and refinement of the Main and Auxiliary Telescopes Operations procedures.
    • Provide feedback to optimize the telescope’s operations and monitoring software

Required Education/Experience/Skills/Abilities:


  • Bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy, computer science, engineering or a closely related field; a Master degree is preferred, particularly if it includes observing experience.
  • Issue tracking knowledge such as Jira or equivalent.
  • High level software scripting knowledge such as Python (preferred) or equivalent.


  • At least three years of hands-on experience in at least one of the following areas is required:
    • Operation of a major ground-based telescope.
    • Optical and/or infrared observing techniques.
    • Data reduction and analysis of optical and/or infrared ground-based data.
    • Astronomical instruments
    • Requires a valid driver’s license, clean driving record and the ability to drive 4WD vehicles.


  • Must be fluent in English, while command of the Spanish language is an advantage.
  • Ability to work productively in a multinational team.
  • Must be able to work either at day or night on the Cerro Pachon summit, which is at 3,000m (9,000 feet)
  • Must be willing to stay at the summit for several days/nights on end (food and lodging provided)
  • Must be willing to work weekends and holidays as needed. Schedule is subject to change and varies by person within the group based on their responsibilities.
  • Must be prepared to be responsible for the safety of people and equipment while working at night.
  • Must possess organizational and communication skills as well as the ability to learn quickly.
  • Must be reliable, dependable, and flexible - excellent attendance and commitment to work scheduled shifts is necessary.
  • Must be a self-learner and self-starter; requires above-average initiative. Requires outstanding judgment and ability to communicate firmly when issues of safety of personnel or the telescope are apparent.

Preference will be given to qualified internal candidates.

AURA, as a leader in the astronomical community, is committed to diversity and inclusion. AURA develops and supports programs that advance our organizational commitment to diversity, broaden participation, and encourage the advancement of diversity throughout the astronomical scientific workforce. Learn more at http://www.aura-astronomy.org/diversity

As a recipient of U.S. Government funding, AURA is considered a government contractor and is subject to Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action regulations. As an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer, AURA and all of the centers, do not discriminate based on race, sex, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity/gender identity expression, lawful political affiliations, veteran status, disability, and/or any other legally protected status under applicable federal, state, and local equal opportunity laws. 

Preference granted to qualified Native Americans living on or near the Tohono O'odham reservation.

Veterans, disabled individuals or wounded warriors needing assistance with the employment process should request assistance at employment@aura-astronomy.org

Included Benefits: 

AURA provides a generous compensation package including health coverage, paid time off and retirement benefits.

Application Deadline: 
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Current Status of Position: 
Accepting Applicants
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