Queued Service Observations with SPIRou

Phase 1 Proposal Submission Instructions

Updated Feb 17, 2021

Table of Contents

A - Introduction

B - Important information and news

C - NorthStar

D - Applicants

E - Justifications

F - Observing Requests

G - Target list

H - Additional issues

Z - Check list

A - Introduction [Back to Table of Content]

SPIRou, the QSO mode, and the SNR mode

SPIRou SPIRou is a near-infrared spectropolarimeter optimized for high-precision radial velocity measurements. SPIRou is fiber-fed from the Cassegrain focus of the CFHT and is built to obtain very high radial velocity accuracy, of the order of meters/second over several years. SPIRou is designed as an echelle spectrograph that allows to observe a reference spectrum simultaneously to the object of interest. The SPIRou Cassegain unit includes a polarimeter to measure the polarization of the incident light and derive linear or circular polarization states of the observed target. The SPIRou spectrograph is embedded in a cryogenic vessel cooled down to a temperature of 80 K and stabilized at a precision below 2 mK. The spectrograph provides YJHK spectra from 0.95 to 2.35 microns in a single shot, at a spectral resolution of ~75,000.

For details about that instrument, please see its webpage, the cookbook, and a summary of the instrument's early performance. For additional questions, please contact Luc Arnold (larnold -=at=-

SPIRou is offered under the Queued Service Observing (QSO) mode only. The main concept behind the QSO scheme is to perform observing programs only during sky conditions or time constraints required to meet their science goals, as defined by the investigators. This can only be achieved if the programs are all grouped together in a database and are selected appropriately according to a set of constraints, rules and sky conditions. Programs are then carried out by a well trained, local team of observers in a service mode (i.e. investigators are not present at the observatory).

Before submitting a CFHT proposal, please read the short tutorial How QSO works at CFHT. [Keywords: QSO, Regular/TOO/Snapshot programs, Deadlines, NorthStar, Exposure Time Calculators, Technical Evaluations, TAC, Ranking, QSO grade, C programs, Snapshot programs, PH2, Observations, Sky conditions, Calibrations, Night Reports, Data reduction and distribution, Proprietary period, QSO rules, Contact information.]

The QSO-SNR mode (using condition-driven exposure times with a SNR goal rather than fixed exposure times) is available with SPIRou.

NorthStar Phase 1 Tool

CFHT is using the NorthStar Phase 1 tool. NorthStar is used by Principal Investigators (PIs) to submit their proposal(s). All new PIs must register as new NorthStar users; the registration page offers a Help file if assistance is needed. The login information from NorthStar is NOT transferred to PH2. After login in, Help on how to use NorthStar is available on each page.

For technical information regarding SPIRou, please see the SPIRou page.

B - Important information and news [Back to Table of Content]

Please consult the generalities regarding the current Call for Proposals.

Extension of the proprietary period for metadata

PIs have the option of requesting a delay in the reporting of the metadata with appropriate justification in their proposals. This can be done via Northstar by checking "Yes" to the "Exception to the Community/World proprietary periods and metadata release" in the Observing request tab and writing your justification in the box that appears. The metadata includes the name and coordinates of the targets. Unless the release date for the metadata is extended, they will become available immediately at CFHT and CADC.

Gender neutrality of Canadians proposals

For Canadian proposals, the name of the PIs will be withheld from the proposals sent to the Canadian TAC to avoid gender bias issues; the top corner of each page will have "(blank)".. The proposal will instead list the name of the authors in random order. However, accepted proposals will be created under the PI's name as previously.

Instrument modes offered

PI can use the spectroscopic mode and the polarimetric mode without restrictions.

Sky observations have to be considered as additional "on target" observations.

Simultaneous observations of a Fabry-Perot lamp is offered in both spectroscopic and polarimetric modes.


In your calculation of integration time, only include the exposure time and either 28s per exposure in spectroscopic mode, or 35s per exposure in polarimetric mode.

Available bright time and pressure from Large Programs

Please consult the table of Approximate RA pressure from Large Programs for this semester. The dark time is split between MegaCam and SITELLE and the bright time between ESPaDOnS, WIRCam and SPIRou.

Following a SAC 2014 recommendation: "Beginning with the proposals submitted in the March 2010 round, when CFHT performs its technical evaluation (which is then communicated to the TACs), CFHT will flag any proposal which has conflicts in RA and observing conditions with an existing LP. During their ranking process, the national TACs which are participating in both the conflicting PI programs and LP(s) will provide information to CFHT on the relation and priority of each of those, although agency balancing will continue to be the first decision point for CFHT" (see SAC recommendation #12 from Nov 2009).

Mandatory ETC calculations

PH1 mandatory field
The PH1 system requires users to include the values of the exposure time calculators into their proposals. Proposals cannot be submitted if this field is not filled. This is not counted toward the page charge. Here is how to proceed:

In the SPIRou ETC, use the "compute" button followed by the "log" button, and then copy the content of the pop-up window that appears. In NorthStar, "Edit" the appropriate Instr Config, and paste the ETC information in the text box provided.

Snapshot programs

All agencies are invited to encourage their community to submit snapshot programs. These programs must be able to accept an Image Quality worse than 1.2" or significant levels of extinction. Snapshot programs are used not only during bad weather conditions but also to fill gaps in the queues when no A, B or C program are available or suitable. Snapshot programs are not counted toward an agency's allocation.

Non-sidereal observations

Non-sidereal observations with SPIRou are not offered.

Page limit for Canadian proposals

For Canadian proposals: the Science justification is now limited to 2 pages, and the Technical justification to 1 page.

For all other agencies, the page limits are 3 pages and 2 pages respectively.

New! Limited magnitude range for high RV precision observations

High RV precision (5 m/s or better) is only possible in 2 cases:

  1. for stars Hmag ~ 8 or brighter, by using the on-target fast-guiding mode on the SPIRou guider
  2. for stars fainter than Hmag ~ 8 for which there is a nearby guide star (no closer than 5" and no further than 30" from the science target in any direction) that is no fainter than 10th magnitude, and that will be used for offset-fast-guiding on the SPIRou guider. Note that the offset-fast-guiding mode is seldom used, and its exact impact on the RV precision is not known.
By using the slow-guiding mode on the SPIRou guider or Cassegrain guiding, it is possible to observe targets fainter than Hmag~8 (up to Hmag ~ 14) at the cost of a poorer RV precision.

For more information about the submission of your SPIRou QSO proposal(s), contact the QSO Team qsoteam -=at=-

C - NorthStar [Back to Table of Content]

NorthStar is the Phase 1 tool to submit proposals. This tool does not use Latex. The scientific and technical justifications, along with references and figures, are uploaded as PDF files, which may be prepared by the PIs on any software they may wish to use. Figures and references may be included with the Scientific and/or the Technical justifications.

Also note the following regarding the list of targets:

D - Applicants [Back to Table of Content]

For each proposal, there can only be one submitter. However, co-I may be invited to view and edit the proposal too. The PI may also be different than the proposer (contact author). Note that if a proposal is accepted, it will get registered in PH2 under the PI's name, not the name of the contact author or the submitter! Each program belongs to its PI and requires the PI's login information in PH2.

E - Justifications [Back to Table of Content]

The Scientific and Technical justifications must be uploaded as PDF files, and have a limit of 2 and 1 page respectively for Canadian proposals, and 3 and 2 pages respectively for all other agencies.

Please use the CFHT SPIRou exposure time calculator to calculate the exposure time for each of your target and justify the total integration time requested. In your technical justification, please mention your required signal-to-noise ratio per pixel, per exposure, in the intensity spectrum, at 1.65 microns. This will remove any ambiguity on your quantitative goal, show consistency with the ETC, help the feasibility review, and potentially prepare your work for the next phase.

F - Observing Requests [Back to Table of Content]

For SPIRou, you may select QSO Regular programs or QSO Snapshot program. QSO Regular programs include all of the normal QSO programs, with fixed or Solar System objects. Target-of-opportunity (TOO) programs submitted at the same time as all other CFHT proposals may simply be submitted as a QSO regular program. Snapshot Programs must request bad sky conditions and accept a low completion level.

The definition of a snapshot program for SPIRou is the following:

  1. A snapshot program describes valuable science to be obtained on targets observed only in the worse sky conditions (seeing larger than 1.2", and/or high extinction above 2mag)
  2. A snapshot program will be scientifically useful even if the completion is low
  3. A snapshot program preferably requests simple observations (i.e. sidereal tracking, no monitoring)
  4. A snapshot program should preferably include short blocks of observations
  5. The time allocated for such programs is not accounted for in the statistics of time spent for the different Agencies
  6. The proprietary time for the data is 3 months following the end of the semester.
Note that the chance of such programs to be executed, even partially, during a semester can be quite high.

The exposure time calculator gives a clear idea on the effect of the seeing on the S/N obtained on a given target. The table below describes the seeing statistics on Mauna Kea. These data are for the R-band and were taken with FOCAM at CFHT between 1993-1995 (more recent statistics confirm these values).

Image Quality (IQ) Frequency
IQ 1.0" 80%
1.0" < IQ 1.5" 15%
IQ > 1.5" 5%

For your information, the table below gives the average weather statistics for Mauna Kea. Note that the "A" semester is usually more affected by bad weather; time lost during the first few months of the winter can be as high as 50% and even more.

Sky Conditions Frequency
Usable Nights ~70%
Lost to Weather ~20-30%
Usable Photometric Nights ~50%

In queue mode, the time requested is in HOURS.

  1. If the total time of your program is fractional (e.g. 32.4 hr.), please indicate so (.4 hr in a queue mode is possible).
  2. In your calculation of integration time, only the exposure time and 40 seconds of overheads per exposure should be included.
  3. Slewing and acquisition SHOULD NOT be accounted for in your calculations.
  4. CFHT provides instrumental calibrations (biases, flats, comparison exposures). The SPIRou calibration plan includes some telluric and radial velocity standard stars at unguaranteed frequency. If a specific on-sky calibration is needed, the appropriate calibrators must be included in the proposal.

Bright stars can saturate the detector. Please use the exposure time calculator and make sure you do not get any Saturation warning!

Any time constraint or scheduling constraint must be indicated in the proposal: the need for a certain number of consecutive nights, the need for long blocks of time (for example, 8 hours) per night, the need to coordinate CFHT observations with observations taken by another telescope, etc.

By default, the proprietary period of QSO data extends to 1 year + 1 month starting at the end of the QSO semester. If an extension is requested and approved by TAC, a new date will be set for this program through the QSO system. The release date for the data is indicated in the fits headers by the keyword REL_DATE. For snapshot programs, the proprietary time is 3 months following the end of the semester.

G - Target list [Back to Table of Content]

Besides a list of targets with coordinates, SPIRou proposals must include the Magnitude and effective temperature of each target, along with the SNR goal. This information will be used to evaluate the technical feasibility of each proposal.

H - Additional issues [Back to Table of Content]

The Additional issues tab is used to link various proposals together, if need be.

Z - Check list [Back to Table of Content]

Before submitting your proposal, please make sure that:

Need More Information?
Contact the QSO Team at
qsoteam -=at=-