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Remote observing documentation

[Last updated 10/03/2017]

If you are remote observing for P456, you have come to the right place! Some details on this page are specific to observations undertaken from the SOC in Marsfield, however most apply to remote observing generally.

Before observing,

  • If you are observing from the SOC, ensure that you know the password for user "remobs"
  • Ensure that you know the password for user "pksobs"
  • Ensure that you know the password for user "corr" on "pkccc3" and "pkccc4"

* All required P456 schedule files can be found in ~/tcs/sched/P456 - no need to look in any subdirectories
* For 10/50cm observations, we are using the P456_3100_724_sktoo.sch schedule file. The lorun command for this is "lorun 3100+724.cmd"
* For H-OH observations, we are using the P456_256_HOH_DFB4.sch schedule file. The lorun command for this is "lorun hoh_256.mb.cmd"
* Schedule files often change - please contact either Ryan or George about current schedule files.
* As of late 2014, DFB3 has broken and is out of service. DFB4 is now controlled by tcs primary, and tcs alt is not required.

This documentation is a PPTA-specific adaptation of John Sarkissian's Pulsar Remote Observing Guide, the Old PPTA Observing Manual and new material from PPTA remote observing sessions conducted at the SOC.

Please jump to the following sections:

Set up pyxis
Set up the VNC's

Set up the PPTA Dashboard
Start the telescope schedule
Ending a pulsar observation
Ending an observing session
Observing directly after a project other than P456
Changing receivers

Additional information:

Notes for observers taking over from non-PPTA observations
Hardware/software-related documentation, backend configuration
Observational-related documentation, including RFI identification
Common problems you may encounter with observations

Log on to pyxis

At the Marsfield SOC you should log on to the main observing computer (pyxis) as user "remobs".

Set up pyxis

  1. Ensure audio is enabled and turned on
  2. In the Chromium browser on pyxis, open FROG and login
  3. In another tab, load the Online Monitor
  4. In another tab, load the PPTA Dashboard
  5. In another tab, load the remote observing PORTAL and login
  6. In the PORTAL, enter your name in the “Observer/Staff Contact Details” field
  7. In the chat window, alert the current observer to begin the hand-over process

Once the telescope has been handed over to you, start two xterms and open a VNC session on each, logging in with the 'pksobs' password:

  vncviewer -shared joffrey:1

  vncviewer -shared joffrey:2

The recommended set up for the VNC windows is as follows:

On joffrey:1

  1. TCS (primary) on desktop 1
  2. OPERFCC on desktop 3
  3. LOBOSS on desktop 3
  4. LOGUI on desktop 3
  5. PKMC on desktop 4

On joffrey:2

  1. PDFB4 and SPD on desktop 2
  2. MoniCA on desktop 4

Set up the VNC's

The following describes the setup of the various GUI's required to observe remotely.

Set up the pulsar backends

a) PDFB4

On joffrey:2, desktop 2:

  1. Open an xterm and ssh to pkccc4 as 'corr':
    ssh pkccc4 –l corr
  2. At the prompt, type:
    corkill (to kill if already running)
  3. Open another xterm and ssh to pkccc4 as above. Start SPD by typing:
    Type /xs when it asks to select a graphics device
    Then type the following to display folding mode:
    mode b
    sel pp11

Other useful SPD commands are:

   sel bi to view the dispersed frequency v pulse phase plot
a to view the passband
chan to view a range of channels, for example: chan 10 1000
# select 4/xs as the graphics device


On pyxis, load the CASPSR Monitor in a browser window.

Set up TCS - the Telescope Control System

Currently, a single instance of TCS is required: TCS primary - for antenna control and for control of DFB4 and CASPSR.

a) TCS primary

On joffrey:1, desktop 1:

  1. Start TCS:
  2. In the GUI that pops up:
    • select 'pulsar' and 'expert' mode options
    • select the recall state (arrow at bottom left): eg. Multibeam: select P456 -> P456_MB_DFB4, H-OH: select P456 -> P456_HOH_DFB4
    • click 'Start'
    • dismiss the message 'Antenna Disabled'
    • check project id and name as set in recall state above
    • enter observer initials

Set up the Receiver

  1. On pyxis:joffrey:1, desktop 4, check the required receiver is online
  2. In the 'Parkes Monitor & Control' (PKMC) GUI, under 'Receivers', click 'show' for the required receiver
  3. For the MB receiver:
    • Click 'show' for the 10-50 receiver GUI
    • Click on the LNA's until they are off (they will turn red)
    • Click 'show' for the Multibeam receiver GUI
    • Click on beams 1A and 1B to select them (they will turn green)
  4. For the 10-50 receiver:
    Ensure the PKMC settings indicate the following:
    • 10cm Noise Cal Active
    • 10cm LNA A On
    • 10cm LNA B On
    • Vac Gauge Off
    • 50cm Noise Cal Active
    • 50cm LNA A On
    • 50cm LNA B On
  5. Set up the down-conversion system
    In an xterm on joffrey, type:
    cd ~/losetup
    lorun mb.cmd for Multibeam
    lorun hoh_256.mb.cmd for H-OH receiver
    lorun 3100+724.cmd for 10-50 receiver

Set up the P456 Schedule files

  1. DFB4 (pyxis:joffrey:1, desktop 1)
    • For MB receiver: In TCS primary, click 'Sched file' -> Own -> P456_MB_sktoo.sch
    • For H-OH receiver e.g: P456_256_HOH_DFB4.sch
    • For 10-50 receiver e.g: P456_3100_724_sktoo.sch

Turn backends on and take telescope control

  1. In pyxis:joffrey:1, desktop 1:
    • In TCS primary -> System Status, ensure 'antenna', 'focus', 'LO chain', 'attenuator', 'auxiliary' and 'correlator' are all on (green). If not, click and enable. To connect the correlator, select 'DFB4' in 'pulsar backends'.
    • Check all is ok in the log window (scroll to the bottom)
    • In 'pulsar backends', mouse over DFB4 and check 'fold' is selected
    • Still in 'pulsar backends', click on 'CASPSR' to enable it

Set up the PPTA Dashboard and session log

On Dashboard Home, open the link to the log entry page (the page will open in a new tab).

  1. If you are the first observer in the session, click "Start new session" once and once only. This sets up a new log file for the entire P456 session
  2. In the "Current observer" text box, enter your name
  3. The observer should ensure that "Pulsar observation table" is selected to "Include low priority". During the observing session it is important that at least one observation (at 20cm and at 10/50cm) is made of each pulsar that is not low priority. If time is available then the low priority pulsars may also be observed
  4. Choose source to observe - consider priority/time to set or rise/whether the source has already been observed

Start the telescope schedule

  1. In pyxis:joffrey:1, desktop 1:
    • In TCS primary, select 'Sched file' -> View
    • Find the appropriate lines for the source you wish to observe
    • Enter the appropriate line number in 'Start' and 'End'
    • Click 'Start sched'
  2. On Dashboard log entry page:
    • Select the pulsar you are observing
    • Select the receiver you are using
    • Select 'Indicate that you are now observing this pulsar'
    • Click 'submit'
  3. In pyxis:joffrey:2, desktop 2:
    • Check 'SAMPLERS' on DFB4 are showing rms ~ 10
  4. Check the plots on the online should now be taking data!

Ending a pulsar observation

  1. TCS should inform you that the schedule has completed
  2. On Dashboard log entry page, select 'Indicate successful completion of observation'
  3. If the observation was unsuccessful, select 'Indicate unsuccessful observation. Describe the problem that occurred', and enter the reason in the text box. If anything interesting happens during the observation, the observer should describe the issue in "Add new line to the log" and then "submit new log entry". These entries could include "had to park the telescope for a receiver change", "the current data looks strange", "getting lots of RFI" or "changing observing ... going to sleep now".
  4. Select a new pulsar, and repeat the telescope schedule steps above
  5. At the end of an observing session, and before handing over, indicate that you are handing over by adding a line to the PORTAL chat

Ending an observing session

  • After an observing session has finished, the last observer in the session is required to complete a session summary via the link at the top of the Dashboard 'Log Entry' page. Please also be sure to fill out an observers report on the PORTAL
  • If you come across anything that significantly affects the PPTA (for instance, if the maser is moved, or the firmware on a backend gets upgraded) then please add it to the timeline: PPTA timeline.

Observing directly after a project other than P456

Chances are, you will end up taking over from another project, where the set up may have been completely different.

Some tips:

  • If TCS is running, exit and restart
  • If the previous observation was using BPSR, ensure BPSR is stopped. Click on the BPSR Monitor, then 'Controls' and 'Stop'.
  • If the Multibeam receiver was used for a survey, you need to turn off all beams except the primary beam (see Set up the Receiver)

Changing receivers

  • ALWAYS PARK THE DISH - very important!
  • Add an entry to the Dashboard log indicating that you are changing receivers
  • When the dish has parked, open the OPERFCC GUI, select the receiver you require (1050CM or MULTI) and click 'place selected receiver on axis'
  • Open the PKMC GUI, and click 'show->' for the receivers you are using
  • Enable the new receiver, and disable the old, as described in the section 'Set up the Receiver' above
  • Set up the LO down-conversion chain for the new receiver as described in the section 'Set up the Receiver' above
  • Load the schedule files in TCS for the new receiver
  • Start the schedule

Hardware/software-related documentation

Observation-related documentation