Visiting Astronomer's Guide

Rev. Oct. 10, 2023

UPDATE Starting in Semester 2023A, astronomers are allowed to observe on site. However, the limit of 2 people per program will be strictly enforced, where this is due to demand for the hotel.

This guide describes logistical arrangements for Visiting Astronomers scheduled to observe at the SOAR Telescope. Any questions and booking requests should be addressed to your Visit Coordinator:

NOIRLab & Chilean Visitors: Ximena Herreros (ximena.herreros at
Phone: +56-51-2205215
All Others: Marcela Urquieta (marcela.urquieta at
Phone: +56-51-2205323

Please note: Visiting astronomers are normally limited to a maximum of two people, both of whom must be on the original proposal. Additional people or a Co-I not on the original proposal require the approval of the SOAR Director (which will likely NOT be granted, see above). This policy reflects the standard NOIRLab policy (linked below), and applies to all SOAR partners. The number of observers is limited by available hotel space as well as capacity of the telescope control room.

The SOAR Telescope is located on Cerro Pachón at an altitude of 2,738 m, some 400 m from the Gemini South telescope, and 12 km from Cerro Tololo.  The map in this link shows the locations of SOAR, Gemini-South, and the dining and dormitory facilities on Cerro Pachón. Should you need information regarding: Visa requirements to enter Chile, Currency, Customs Procedures, Travelling to La Serena, Taxis and Buses in Santiago and Arrival in La Serena, please see the CTIO Visiting Astronomers Travel Guide.

Before your observing run

  1. Read through the CTIO Visiting Astronomer's Travel Guide
  2. Please plan ahead and contact your Scientific Staff support a least 3 weeks before your observing run, so you can discuss your particular instrumentation needs, and requirements for supporting your observations.
    1. If your time was allocated through NOIRLab or the Chilean TAC, your contacts are the following:
      • Goodman: Sean Points, Konstantina Boutsia or Felipe Navarete
      • SOI: (no longer offered)
      • SAM: Andrei Tokovinin or Cesar Briceño
      • Spartan: Jay Elias
      • SIFS: Jay Elias (you will be referred to a Brazilian support scientist)
      • TripleSpec: Sean Points
      • HRCam: Andrei Tokovinin
      • OSIRIS (no longer offered)
    2. If your time was allocated through the Brazilian TAC, then your support for any of the SOAR instruments may be provided remotely through LNA (e-mail soar.suporte AT
    3. If you are observing through time allocated to the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) or to Michigan State University (MSU), the person in charge of SOAR at your department will provide you with the appropriate support.
  3. Submit your Instrument Setup Form at least 2 weeks before your observing run
  4. Depending on the instrument and type of observations you will also need to submit special, critical information well in advance:
    1. If you will be observing with SAM you need to submit your target list at least 2 weeks before your scheduled observations, so that we can submit to the US Laser Clearing House the request for authorized time windows in which each object can be observed with the SOAR Laser Guided Adaptive Optics System
    2. If you will be observing with the Goodman Multi-Slit Object (MOS) mode, you need to submit your mask configurations at least 1 month ahead of your scheduled observations.
  5. Contact NOIRLab ITOps for assistance in connecting your laptop to the NOIRLab networks. IMPORTANT NOTE - at present, policies related to visitor computers are evolving due to the August 2023 cyberincident; please make sure you make contact well before you travel. 
  • There are both US-style 110V and Chilean-style 220V outlets in the control room; bring an adapter if your laptop has a plug different from either of these.

During your observing run
On your first day, make sure to contact your Support Scientist and the Telescope Operator early on, so you can arrange with them the appropriate time to start your afternoon calibrations, and whether you need twilight observations.
Afternoon calibrations usually start at 4 pm.  In special cases, e.g. if very long calibrations are required, an earlier start may be arranged, but this requires special arrangements. Ask your Support Scientist.

Operator schedules - The telescope is run by 2 operators who work overlapping shifts. The first operator comes on duty early enough to perform set-ups and support afternoon calibrations, while the second operator wprks until the approximate end of the night. Chilean labor law and the NSF between them do not provide much flexibility, so the "end of the night" is fixed by contract and specified for a "summer" schedule that runs mid-October to February, and a "winter" schedule that covers the rest of the year. This may limit observers who could otherwise work further into morning twilight.

Remember to fill in your End-of-Night report (Internal Access Only) before going to bed. This is very important, not only because it allows us to keep statistics on telescope use, downtime due to weather or technical issues, but mostly because only if we receive an early report on a technical problem, we can act promptly the next day to try and fix it and have you or the next observer ready for the next science night. Please note that if you have left the mountain and are no longer inside the CTIO network, you will need to connect through the VPN in order to access the Night Reports.

Transportation from La Serena to Pachón and back

Carry-all service between La Serena and Pachon is currently limited; please contact your visit coordinator for current schedules. It is likely that you will need to arrange for a taxi (van service) unless your schedule is flexible. Please coordinate your travel plans several working days in advance of your arrival; we cannot guarantee transport otherwise.

Arrival at Cerro Pachón and accommodations

Observers arriving Pachón from La Serena will be dropped off by the carry-all minibus at the main dormitory unit (picture on right) by default. If your room was assigned there, head directly to the TV room located in the middle of the main dormitories hallway (go up the staircase upon entering the building). There the key hanger is located. The keys to your room (with your name on it) should be hanging there. If not, go and ask the kitchen staff.

If you were assigned a room in the "20-unidades" dormitory extension (second picture on right), then most likely your room keys will be in the main key board at the entrance of the dormitory unit.

Wireless and Ethernet wire connections are available in all dormitories, cables are supplied.

(At present only "public" wifi is available in the hotel.)

There are 110V US-style and 220V Chilean-style electricity sockets, an air humidifying system and heating/cooling. A hair dryer is available in the bathroom and there is a security box in the closet for valuable items.

Room service
The dormitories and houses are cleaned on a daily basis. Every fourth day a thorough cleaning is carried out and bed and bath linen are changed. Should you need further services, please contact the Mountain Assistant at 440.

Getting from the dormitory to the SOAR Telescope and back

Your Visit Coordinator will assign you a car to drive between the dormitories and the telescope (there is a 3-km distance between both places). Pick up the keys to your rental car from the Pachon Dining Facility at the start of your run, the car will be parked just outside that building. The vehicle should be returned to the same location at the end of your run, where the duty Cook will verify that the car and other items have been returned in good condition. Please only use this car to transport yourself within the mountaintop grounds. Taking the vehicle down the mountain is strictly forbidden. Never exceed the speed limits indicated along the road, and drive extra carefully, more so if there is snow on the ground. Be aware of other vehicles on the road, and note that often there are heavy machinery performing maintenance work. If in doubt, ask for and follow the advice and recommendations of the Telescope Operators; they have years of experience and training driving in this mountain under a variety of conditions. Any problems or mishaps with the vehicle should be promptly reported to your Visit Coordinator.

Visitors are prohibited from hiking on the road, due to traffic. If you cannot drive a car, please coordinate transportation with the telescope operators and SOAR day crew. Also, hiking beyond where you are readily visible from the hotel is also prohibited, as NOIRLab does not have the resources to search for you if you go missing. If you want to go running please use the paved road at the summit during daylight only (and pay attention to traffic). Please pay attention to weather conditions as well.

Dining on Cerro Pachón
The dining hall is located in the main dormitory unit, and has a full cafeteria service, with buffet style meals every day. Services are adapted to pandemic conditions. Should you require vegetarian meals or a special diet, please notify your Visit Coordinator in advance so that the kitchen can make the appropriate arrangements.

The new Meal Registration System uses tablets on which you can register for a meal either by entering your visitor ID number or your last name. The tables are located at the near self-service bar; it is important that you register your meal before serving yourself.

Meal Schedule

Breakfast     08:00 to 09:00
Lunch           12:45 to 14:00 
Dinner          17:00 to 18:00  

Night Lunch:  At lunchtime, please fill out an order form to get your night lunch at Pachón and hand it to the kitchen staff. Your pack will be ready at dinner time. You must also register the night lunch on the tablet.

Special dietary concerns and precautions
Should you require vegetarian meals or a special diet at Cerro Pachon, please notify your Visit Coordinator in advance so that the itchen can make the appropriate arrangements. While in Chile it is recommended that you eat only peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables. Seafood should only be consumed cooked.

Drinking water
Tap water is currently not fully certified in the AURA-O facilities (La Serena, Tololo and Pachón), so you probably should fill glasses from the dispensers in the dining rooms. Elsewhere in Chile it is recommended that you drink bottled water.

There are laundry facilities at the Pachón hotel. Please contact one of the kitchen staff or the janitor for access and for detergent.

Charges & Payment Procedure
Prior to the start of your observing run you will be given a Credit Card Authorization Form.  This should be completed and sent by e-mail or delivered personally to your Visit Coordinator.

NOIRLab & Chilean Visitors: Ximena Herreros (ximena.herreros at
Phone: +56-51-2205215
All Others: Marcela Urquieta (marcela.urquieta at
Phone: +56-51-2205323

The completion and return of this Credit Card Authorization form grants AURA-O Accounting the right to charge the card indicated by the visitor for services.  This invoice will be subject to an e-mail confirmation from the visitor approving the charges.  

Current fees for services (please confirm with your visit coordinator, these are subject to change)

 Lodging at Hotel or 20 Units Dorm  CLP$ 46,467/night
 Motel Room in La Serena  CLP$ 43,099/night
 Meals  CLP$ 14,172/per meal
 Carryall Service to/from Pachon  CLP$ 35,525/one-way ride
 Rental Car on Pachon  CLP$   6,000/day

Emergency services at Cerro Pachón
A Paramedic staffs the first aid clinic, which is in the small white building below the Gemini dome (on the road).  Please dial # 577 for daytime assistance in case of illness or an accident, and for nighttime emergencies. If you suffer from a medical condition or are taking medicine regularly, be sure to communicate this to the Paramedic upon arrival. 

Carrying and/or consuming alcohol or any kind of illegal drugs on the mountain is expressly forbidden under any condition or circumstance.   

After your observing run.
Please fill in the End-of-Run report which can be found on our web site, at this link.    The End-of-Run is our way to know your assessment of the entire observing run experience, so it is very important you submit it. Feel free to add any comments you think appropriate. Also, please note that if you have left the mountain and are no longer inside the CTIO network, you will need to connect through the VPN in order to access the End-of-Run Reports.

For telephone numbers for SOAR/CTIO Staff  click here



Updated on October 12, 2023, 10:45 am