ann20002 — Announcement

Coronavirus COVID-19 Measures at NOIRLab

31 March 2021

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, NOIRLab is actively responding to the situation and taking measures to ensure the safety of its staff and the public. We are currently not hosting visitors to the summit or base facilities.

Update Sept. 9, 2021

We are currently not hosting visitors to the summit or base facilities until the earliest 1 November 2021.

Update Mar. 31, 2021

The government of Chile has developed a concerted national effort to administer the COVID-19 vaccine; however, the number of new infections recently reached the highest daily number since last winter. In response to this the Chilean government has introduced a number of new restrictions and quarantines. 

NSF’s NOIRLab will continue science operations at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, SOAR Telescope, and Gemini South as planned, but with reduced staffing on the mountain sites.

All measures are being taken to ensure the safety of our staff by following AURA’s Coronavirus Exposure Prevention Plan. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and keep the community informed of any changes.

Update Dec. 07, 2020

Following is an update on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on NSF’s NOIRLab. 

Starting in mid-October 2020, science operations conducted with limited staff were re-established at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona and at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), Gemini South, and SOAR facilities in Chile after their suspension on 18 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, since mid-May 2020, the Gemini North telescope has been conducting observations from Maunakea.

At KPNO, the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope and WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope, as well as a number of tenant facilities, have restarted limited nighttime operations. The focus has been on continuity of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and NEID instrument commissioning. We are currently able to continue science operations at KPNO while following all public health guidelines and our rigorous safety protocols developed over the past eight months, and are closely monitoring the situation in Arizona.

In Chile, at CTIO, the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope restarted limited operations with the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on 11 October 2020, while the SMARTS 1.5-meter Telescope resumed operations with Chiron on 11 November. All of the robotic tenant facilities are also back in operation, while the KMTNet 1.6-meter Telescope will start up in early December when the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute’s (KASI) telescope operators can return to work on site. 

At SOAR on Cerro Pachón, the telescope and the Goodman spectrograph resumed science operations on 7 October and these are continuing. Subsequently, all SOAR instruments have been prepared for use, and all instruments scheduled for the remainder of the semester have been checked on sky, now including science observations. Observations have been performed with SIFS, HRCam, SAM, Spartan and TripleSpec, plus a complete day-time check-out with the SOAR Imager (SOI). Auxiliary capabilities (guiders, ADC, calibration WF sensor) have all been brought into operation as well.

Gemini South operations resumed on 20 October 2020. The telescope and its instruments continue to work well and the weather has been favorable, so good progress has been made on the observing queue. The new GHOST instrument will be moved to the summit in December, although installation and commissioning must wait until it is safe to complete. 

Gemini North in Hawai‘i has been operational since the night of 19 May 2020. The team just completed a major telescope maintenance shutdown with a minimal, physically distanced crew. Science operations resumed after the maintenance shutdown but have been impacted by the onset of northern hemisphere winter weather. At both Gemini North and South, proposals will be considered for Director’s Discretionary Time and the Fast Turnaround monthly process.

Limited construction activities on Cerro Pachón in Chile for Vera C. Rubin Observatory, in compliance with COVID-19 protocols, resumed on 28 September 2020. The Commissioning Camera, which has been at the base facility in La Serena since May because of COVID-19 restrictions on the summit, was moved to Cerro Pachón on 16 November 2020, where it will be installed on the third level of the summit facility. 

NOIRLab is extending its closure of public visits and face to face educational events until at least 1 June 2021. NSF’s NOIRLab Communications, Education & Engagement group has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating a variety of virtual experiences for parents, teachers, students and the general public. These programs take a variety of forms, including pre-recorded videos highlighting NOIRLab science and education programs and live video events featuring NOIRLab staff and scientists. The best way to find out when these programs are offered is to follow NOIRLab social media channels or check our website.

NOIRLab’s teleworking policy remains in effect at all sites for all staff who can work remotely. NOIRLab will continue to closely monitor all factors influencing the restart of operations and will act according to the latest health and safety considerations at each location.

Update Oct. 12, 2020

NOIRLab is pleased to announce that limited science operations are being re-established at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Gemini South, and SOAR facilities in Chile after suspension on 18 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In mid-September 2020, these sites all passed Phase 1 Readiness Reviews for minimal science operation. This represented the culmination of months of preparatory work by dozens of team members. The teams’ planning prioritized the safety of staff, and of our facilities and the surrounding communities, in the face of the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Gemini North telescope at Maunakea in Hawai‘i has been operational since the night of 19 May 2020 thanks to the generally lower numbers of COVID-19 cases in Hawai‘i, and many of the ideas developed and lessons learned at Gemini North are being applied to the reopening of other NOIRLab facilities.

Each of our facilities has unique requirements and timelines for restart. Once a facility begins preparations for restart, its timeline for reopening will depend on the engineering work needed to safely resume operations, and the weather. Based on the amount of preparation needed at each facility, the plan to returning to science is as follows (with some uncertainty in the dates, depending on the progress of the preparations):

  • SOAR Telescope science operations began on 7 October 2020, after completing on-sky engineering tests the night of 6 October.
  • After approximately three weeks of necessary maintenance on the facility, telescope, and instruments, the Gemini South telescope will resume limited night-time science operations in the second half of October. 
  • At Cerro Tololo limited nighttime operations of the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope resumed on 11 October. It is expected that the SMARTS 1.5-meter Telescope will resume operation by early November and that the other tenant facilities on Cerro Tololo will be progressively brought back online over the coming month.
  • At Kitt Peak National Observatory, preparatory activities are already underway, including safety inspections, deferred mountain facility maintenance, and other activities to prepare to restart the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and the NEID spectrograph commissioning. The WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope and the DESI/Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope are expected to resume nighttime activities by mid-November.

Limited construction activities on Cerro Pachón for Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a future Program of NOIRLab, resumed on 28 September 2020, coinciding with the easing of the quarantine restrictions for the La Serena area, and following a thorough review to ensure that summit work could resume safely. Work will ramp up gradually over the next few months to ensure the team has time to re-adapt to working on the summit, and to adjust to the new COVID-19 protocols and procedures that are now in place. During the first week of the restart, a team of approximately 15 to 20 individuals worked on the summit for three days. Activities included general inspections, dining facility improvements, preparation of equipment, and beginning the replacement of fittings inside the primary/tertiary mirror (M1M3) cell for the Simonyi Survey Telescope.

NOIRLab’s teleworking policy remains in effect at all sites for all staff who can work remotely. We are currently not hosting visitors at any of our summit or base facilities. NOIRLab will continue to closely monitor all factors influencing the restart of operations and will act according to the latest health and safety considerations at each location.

Update Oct. 08, 2020

We are continuously monitoring and actively responding to the COVID-19 situation, including taking measures to ensure the safety of our staff, their families and our communities.

Our top operational priority at all sites has been the restart and continuity of science operations. A recent update on progress towards restarting science operations can be found on our COVID-19 web page.

We have assessed the possibility of reopening our sites in Arizona, Hawai‘i and Chile for public visits, but after careful consideration we have concluded the sites will need to remain closed to public visits until at least 1 February 2021. This includes public visits to the Kitt Peak Visitor Center — and the public access to the Kitt Peak site via the mountain road — as well as public visits to our facilities in Hawai‘i (Gemini North) and Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile (CTIO and Gemini South).

With COVID-19 infection rates remaining unpredictable, it is not possible to implement the necessary safety, security, and monitoring activities to allow public visits and this could jeopardize our science operations.

Our online educational events and experiences will continue to be available, including our weekly Live from NOIRLab event on Wednesdays. 

As soon as circumstances allow, in-person activities at our sites will resume. The timeline may be different for each site. Updates will be posted on our COVID-19 webpage.

Update Sept. 21, 2020

Last week, there were two successful Phase 1 (minimal science operations) Readiness Reviews. One review was for operations at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona and the other was for Chile (including Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Gemini South, Rubin Construction, SOAR) operations. These reviews represented the culmination of months of preparatory work by dozens of team members at all sites of NOIRLab operations. This planning first prioritized the safety of staff, and also of our facilities and the surrounding communities. Below we give an update on the status of the operations at each site.

All Sites: NOIRLab’s maximum teleworking policy remains in effect at all sites. We are currently not hosting visitors to the summit or base facilities.

Arizona: Phase 1 operations started Monday, 14 September 2020. First activities include safety inspections, road repairs, deferred mountain facility maintenance, and other initial activities to prepare to restart DESI and NEID commissioning. If the ramp-up proceeds according to plan, the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope and DESI/Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope are expected to resume night-time activities by mid-November. 

Chile: Phase 1 operations are planned to begin the week of 28 September 2020, including activities at the AURA Recinto, and on Cerro Tololo and Pachón. We are ensuring compliance with local regulations. If the ramp-up proceeds according to the plan presented at the Readiness Review, then limited night-time operations are expected to resume for Gemini South and SOAR by the second half of October and for the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope by November 2020. 

Hawai‘i: Gemini North has had continuous science operations since 19 May 2020.

Update Sept. 2, 2020:

NSF’s NOIRLab Call for Proposals for the 2021A semester, 1 February 2021 – 31 July 2021, has been released. Please read this call carefully, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected some telescope operations and schedules. The proposals are due by 30 September 2020 at 11:59 pm Mountain Standard Time (MST)

Read more about how to apply for time on the Gemini telescopes here. Note that significant changes can happen and impact the available Gemini observing time and instruments due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the global pandemic, Gemini is not accepting visitors until further notice, and the "Bring One, Get One" Student Observer Support Program" program remains unavailable.

Due to the mid-March 2020 closure of the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and no reopening date yet set, WIYN is not soliciting new NNEXPLORE proposals for 2021A Semester.

Update June 22, 2020:

Status of NOIRLab Observing Time Lost to COVID-19

Gemini Observatory: Gemini South halted operations on 16 March 2020 and remains closed. Gemini North halted operations on 23 March and resumed limited nighttime operations on 19 May. All uncompleted (non-ToO) Band 1 programs for 2020A will roll over into the following semester, as usual for Band 1 programs. No special arrangements will be made for Band 2 and 3 programs, and these programs will come to an end when the 2020A semester closes. Target changes are not allowed, however if this would result in particular hardship (e.g., adverse effects on a student thesis), the NGO or PI should contact the Observatory and request an exception as soon as possible. Additional details are available here.

CTIO has been closed since 18 March 2020. The observatory will rollover time on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope and SOAR awarded to survey and long-term proposals by the NOIRLab TAC and by the NASA TACs (HST, Chandra, Spitzer, and FERMI) for supporting ground-based observations. Although observing time awarded to standard proposals will not be automatically rolled over, requests for DD time will receive a sympathetic ear especially when observations are time-critical or form part of an investigator’s thesis research. Questions may be directed to CTIO Director Steve Heathcote (

KPNO: While KPNO has been closed since 18 March 2020, almost all of the open access time on Kitt Peak is NN-EXPLORE time on the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope, which has been devoted to NEID commissioning in the current schedule. An ongoing survey program on the WIYN 0.9-meter Telescope will receive prioritized scheduling when operations resume. Questions may be directed to KPNO Director Lori Allen (

Partner facilities:AAT operations went through phases of shutdown (26 March – 10 May) and restricted operations (11 May – 1 June; programs using 2dF only), with all observations carried out remotely since 2 June 2020. All scheduled NOIRLab programs will proceed as requested, although observations will need to be carried out remotely. Observers with sufficient bandwidth and some previous observing experience will be allowed to observe from home. All NOIRLab observers will be supported by local AAT support astronomers, and observers will be provided with all instructions after completing the Visitor’s Form. Questions may be directed to Lucyna Chudczer ( or the Siding Spring Observatory Director, Chris Lidman (
CHARA closed all on-sky operations on 19 March and resumed remote-only nighttime observing on 26 May. During this period, approximately 16.5 nights of NOIRLab community access time was lost. Weather data shows that more than half of the observing time lost to the shutdown would have been lost to weather (rain, snow, wind, humidity). Access to the observatory is currently very limited due to the ongoing pandemic. PIs with time remaining in the 2020A semester or in the upcoming 2020B semester are asked to contact Gail Schaefer ( or Chris Farrington ( to discuss remote observing options as only CHARA staff are able to access the facility. Currently, CHARA is treating time lost to the closure as equivalent to a bad weather event. CHARA programs that lost time in 2020A should reapply in 2021A. Questions and concerns regarding lost time can be directed to the CHARA Director Douglas Gies (

Update June 11, 2020:

Following is an update on the impact of the COVID-19 virus on NSF’s NOIRLab. 

Since the night of Tuesday, 19 May 2020, the Gemini North telescope has been conducting observations from Maunakea. Operations continue at the Gemini North Base facility with minimal daytime and nighttime staffing. 

NOIRLab is developing site-specific plans to restart mountain- and base-operations across all other NOIRLab locations. Our sites in Chile and Arizona remain closed. In these unprecedented circumstances, our first priority remains the health and safety of our staff, visitors and other users of the mountains. 

The timing of the restarts will differ for each location and will reflect national and regional regulations, including those of the Tohono O’odham Nation at Kitt Peak, and our procedures will comply with local safety guidelines.

Even as many US states and countries worldwide begin to reopen, conditions in Arizona and Chile do not meet any of the metrics that we are monitoring as part of our decision-making around restarting operations. Latin American is presently an epicenter for the pandemic and we are carefully monitoring conditions in Chile. In Arizona, the peak of the outbreak apparently has not yet been reached. 

“We must recognize that three months into our shutdown, conditions in Arizona and Chile do not allow us to reopen safely,” explains NOIRLab Director Pat McCarthy. “Two of our three locations are still grappling with the worst of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is likely to be some time before we can restart in these two locations. We will continue to keep our partners, observers, and other organizations with telescopes on the mountains informed as conditions evolve.”

Small teams continue to maintain the safety of the equipment and infrastructure in Tucson and La Serena and on the summits of Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo, and Cerro Pachón. All other staff continue to telework.

Update May 27, 2020:

After an extensive safety review and preparations, Gemini North successfully restarted limited nighttime observations on the night of Tuesday, 19 May, with a minimal on-site crew. Gemini is contacting PIs for any needed updates to their existing programs.    
We are accepting Director’s Discretionary Proposals for Gemini North with GMOS, GNIRS, and ‘Alopeke. We are currently considering resuming Fast-Turnaround Proposals for Gemini North.
The remainder of the NOIRLab facilities remain suspended.

Update May 15, 2020:

After an internal Operations Restart Readiness Review earlier today, the northern telescope of the international Gemini Observatory, Gemini-North, in Hawai‘i has been given the green light to restart night-time observations on the night of Tuesday, May 19, with a minimal on-site crew. The restart is possible because the governor of Hawaii has given permission for observatories to open, and because Hawai‘i has a very low number of active COVID-19 cases. At today’s review, we determined that appropriate safety protocols are in place and operating, all local and national regulations are met, sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment are on hand with a reasonable expectation of a functioning supply chain, and other operational protocols are in place.

Update May 12, 2020:

We are developing site-specific plans to restart mountain- and base-operations across all NOIRLab locations. Restarting operations will be more complex and dynamic than the process of suspending operations that we conducted in March.

The timing of the restarts will be different for each location and must be compliant with local and federal regulations including those of the Tohono O’odham Nation. This includes compliance with local and federal guidelines for safe workplace conditions. 

The governor of Hawai‘i has provided additional information regarding the reopening of businesses in the state. He identified astronomical observatories as organizations that can resume limited operations using appropriate safety procedures. The Gemini team is planning a return to a minimal night-time-operations mode for Gemini North as early as mid-May, although this date is not confirmed. We will update you regarding specific timelines for developments in Hawai‘i as they are developed.

Update May 1:

The Governor of Arizona has updated and extended the state-wide stay-at-home order through May 15. The NOIRLab HQ base facility will remain closed and operations on Kitt Peak will remain suspended until at least May 15. There is no change in the status of mountain or base facility operations at the other NOIRLab sites at this time.

Update April 21:

Given the ongoing coronavirus threat and evolving US federal and Chilean government guidelines, NOIRLab base facilities remain closed until 15 May or later and staff will continue to telework. Science operations at the summit sites also remain suspended at this time. We are however monitoring the situation closely and will post an update on Friday, 1 May.

Update April 3, 2020:

Given the ongoing coronavirus threat, US federal guidance, and policies issued by the Chilean Government, NOIRLab mountain and base facilities will remain closed through at least 30 April, 2020. Until further notice, all staff are required to continue teleworking, and telescopes are not conducting science operations. As we plan ahead for our operational state in the weeks and months to come, we are continuously monitoring the virus threat level, federal guidance, and school closures. We will update this message no later than 20 April, 2020.  

Update March 25, 2020:

The Ministry of Health in Chile has issued additional restrictions in Chile, including a country-wide night-time curfew between 22:00 in the evening to 5:00 in the morning, and a sanitary check on travellers to the Northern regions (including Coquimbo). The Chilean borders remain closed to foreigners, with a 14-day quarantine for any arriving residents.

Update March 24, 2020:

The Gemini North telescope halted night-time operations Monday 23 March, in response to Hawai’i’s statewide order to restrict movement of residents and visitors to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Essential systems will be maintained to keep the personnel, facility, and equipment safe. Staff that are able will continue to telework to support our users and communities. With this action, scientific operation at all NOIRLab telescopes has been suspended.

Update March 21, 2020:

Time Allocation Committee US Semester 2020B

Due to the disruption in many people’s work schedules caused by COVID-19, such as many of you having to relocate your work and teaching from the office to home, the NOIRLab has extended the deadline for all US Semester 2020B observing proposals by 1 week, from 31 March to 7 April 2020 (at 23:59 MST). Based on the expected workload of processing proposals, the NOIRLab staff will be able to accept the 1-week extension for proposals and still be able to keep to the semester 2020B schedule. The 7 April deadline applies to all NOIRLab Standard and Survey proposals, as well as Gemini LLP proposals. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at

Update March 20, 2020:

We have suspended all scientific operations at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (including SOAR, and all tenant facilities), the Gemini South telescope, and the Kitt Peak National Observatory (incl. WIYN, and all tenant facilities). The telescopes and instruments are being shut down safely over the course of this week and only a skeleton crew will remain on the mountains.

The Gemini North telescope is closed over the weekend due to bad weather, but the instruments are being kept cold. The Gemini leadership will assess the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii on Sunday and make a decision about reopening on Monday.

The Rubin Observatory team is winding down construction activity on Cerro Pachón, as described here.

We will restrict access to our base facilities as of Monday, 23 March.

Update March 18, 2020:

In response to the continued COVID-19 outbreak in the US and Chile, we are announcing the following changes at our facilities, effective immediately and until further notice.

The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (including SOAR, and all tenant facilities), the Gemini South telescope and the Kitt Peak National Observatory (incl. WIYN, and all tenant facilities) will be suspending all scientific operations. The telescopes and instruments will be shut down safely over the course of this week and only a skeleton crew will remain on the mountains. 

All sites are closed to visitors; events and all tours and classroom visits have been halted.

Scientific operations are continuing at Gemini North with limited day-time summit crews. We will not solicit Fast Turnaround Proposals for Gemini for the 31 March deadline. 

We are restricting access to our base facilities. More information will be shared as soon as it is available.

Update March 17, 2020:

Proposals for Director’s Discretionary time for both Gemini North and South are not being accepted until at least 15 April 2020. 

Update March 16, 2020:

The NOIRLab is progressing to a primarily teleworking mode over 16–17 March. At the same time, our operations are also transitioning as we prepare the summits to be maintained by skeleton crews. 

We will provide further updates in the coming days.

Update March 13, 2020:

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) team has suspended their commissioning activities.  We are working with the Lawrence Berkeley Lab DESI team to put the instrument into a safe state. 

There are no public visits, tours, public events, media visits and classroom visits in all NOIRLab locations until further notice.

We have decided to change the US Semester 2020B Time Allocation Committee (TAC) meetings from in-person to virtual. Deadlines and meeting dates will remain the same. Participation will be via a remote connection. No external TAC panelists should travel to Tucson for this meeting, local panelists (except for Tucson-based AURA employees) should also participate remotely, and AURA-staff that are not based in Tucson may travel to Tucson to participate.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact Program Head, NOIRLab TAC Verne V. Smith or TAC Coordinator, Mia Hartman.

The Gemini Science Meeting scheduled for June 2020 is postponed. All who have paid their registration fee for this meeting will receive a refund. There are plans to reschedule the meeting in Korea next year. Updates for next year’s meeting will be sent to all who registered for this year’s meeting and we invite all others to subscribe to updates at

We ask for the understanding of all those who may be affected by these measures. We are fully committed to putting the wellbeing and safety of people first.

Read more on the AURA website.


Lars Lindberg Christensen
NOIRLab Head of Communications, Education & Engagement
Cell: +1 520 461 0433

About the Announcement



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