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JWST @ STScI Update

Klaus Pontoppidan (pontoppi[at]stsci.edu)

Communication and JWSTObserver

“JWSTObserver” refers to the system of communication channels for the James Webb Space Telescope between STScI and the astronomical community. It includes the jwst.stsci.edu website, news items and events, and a social media presence on Twitter and FaceBook. JWSTObserver news items are also distributed every two months in a “news roundup” email. The latest news about JWST “for scientists” can always be found on the JWSTObserver channels, so be sure to check the website, follow us on social media and/or sign up for the JWSTObserver newsletter. STScI also cultivates the public outreach website for JWST science, www.webbtelescope.org, which was recently redesigned. This site will be continuously updated with new content and resources explaining infrared astronomy and the science of JWST to a general audience. You may also find it useful as a resource for teaching, or for your own public outreach activities.

JWST Science and Operations Center

On June 27, NASA announced a revised schedule for JWST, with a new launch date on March 30, 2021. This delay paused the Cycle 1 General Observations (GO1) proposal process. Pending further direction from NASA, the Institute anticipates releasing the GO1 Call for Proposals in late 2019 or early 2020, at least 14 months prior to the launch date, and the GO1 deadline will be no earlier than February 2020. More detail on the science timeline can be found in a companion article in this edition by Neill Reid.

STScI is using the delay from now until the end of 2019 to complete testing of the ground system, improve the observing efficiency, and enhance the proposal planning subsystem, in particular by improving our observer documentation, such as JDox.

Lessons learned after the GO1 delay

Following the delay of the GO1 proposal deadline, user support at STScI and JWSTObserver conducted a survey of the JWST users asking about their experience with the proposal process. The survey ran from April 16 to May 1, 2018, and resulted in 318 responses and more than 50 pages of detailed feedback comments. The basic results of the survey can be found on the JWST Observer website. One of the key results from the survey is that almost 40% the respondents reported that they had not yet used the Astronomer’s Proposal Tool (APT) to start technical preparation of the proposed observations. Since JWST proposals should have complete technical specifications at the time of submission, some proposers might well have encountered significant issues in finalizing their proposals by the original deadline.

The survey results were used to inform a “lessons learned” exercise that resulted in a number of recommendations for improvements of the proposal planning system. In particular, it is clear that JWST is a complex observatory, and that some users struggled learning how to use it. Recommendations therefore included improving the ETC by adding functionality that helps new users to carry out simple sensitivity calculations, improvements to the NIRSpec MSA planning tool, and consolidation of the visibility tools. STScI is also working on improving documentation and adding more quick-start video tutorials. Finally, a new suite of training events is being planned for 2019/2020.

JWST at the summer AAS and the IAU General Assembly in Vienna

JWST had a significant presence at the summer AAS in Denver and the recent General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Vienna, Austria. At the summer AAS, a meeting on “Preparing for JWST Science with the Early Release Science Programs” presented the science planned for early release, with participation of 8 out of 13 ERS teams. The presentations from this meeting are available online. At the IAU General Assembly a 3-day Focus Meeting on “Launch, Commissioning and Cycle 1 Science” highlighted ERS, GTO and GO science, and keynote presentations by IAU President Ewine van Dishoeck, NIRISS PI René Doyon, and the ESA Director of Science Günther Hasinger. The IAU focus meeting presentations are also available online.

IAU General Assembly Virtual Reality demonstration
JWST communications lead at STScI, Alex Lockwood, demonstrates the JWST Virtual Reality experience to the ESA Director of Science, Günther Hasinger, at the IAU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.


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The JWST Cycle 1 General Observer Proposal Schedule

Neill Reid (inr[at]stsci.edu)

On March 27th 2018, 10 days prior to the nominal Cycle 1 General Observer proposal deadline, NASA announced a postponement of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. With the completion of the report by the Independent Review Board, NASA has developed a revised schedule, setting a launch date of March 30, 2021. Working in conjunction with the JWST Project at Goddard and the JWST Users Committee (JSTUC), we have developed a corresponding outline for the Cycle 1 proposal process. The results are shown in Figure 1.

JWST Cycle 1 Figure
Figure 1: The JWST Cycle 1 proposal schedule.

A key requirement in developing the proposal schedule is that the final Cycle 1 science program, including the Guaranteed Time Observer (GTO) programs, the Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS) programs, and General Observer (GO) program, is formulated sufficiently in advance of the start of science observations. This fixes the timeframe for scheduling the Telescope Allocation Committee, and therefore sets the cadence for the other major milestones and deadlines associated with the proposal process. For the moment, we are retaining some flexibility by mapping the schedule against 2–3 month windows.

Part of the Cycle 1 science program is already in place. The GTO observers submitted their original programs in April 2017 and finalized them in January of this year, applying ~3700 hours (~90% of their allocation) to a rich variety of targets ranging from solar system objects and nearby exoplanets through star-forming regions and nearby galaxies, to surveys of galaxy formation in the early universe. A further ~500 hours has been allocated to community ERS programs spanning a similar range of topics. Those programs will have a chance to consider potential minor revisions, given the change in launch date. Following NASA policy, any such changes will need to be finalized 7 months in advance of the Cycle 1 Call for Proposals

The Call itself must be specified sufficiently in advance of the TAC meeting to allow time for proposal preparation (~3 months) and the review process (~3 months). Consequently, if the TAC is scheduled for the June–August time period in 2020, the proposal deadline will likely fall in the March–May window and the Call will be issued late in 2019 or very early in 2020. Tracking back to the GTO and ERS proposals, their target lists will need to be finalized between May and June in 2019 to meet NASA policy requirements. The final schedule for the Cycle 1 proposal process will be set in early 2019 after extensive consultation with the JSTUC and the JWST Project. 

A total of ~6,000 hours will be offered for GO programs—the ~20% over-subscription is essential to ensure efficient use of the observing time throughout the cycle. As in the original Call, programs will be grouped by size as Small, Medium and Large programs; at present, the boundaries are set at durations 25 and 75 hours—based on feedback, we may consider increasing the lower boundary to ~30 hours. The overall balance in time allocation will be tilted towards smaller programs in Cycle 1. Proposers can apply for long-term programs spanning up to 3 cycles if scientifically necessary (e.g., astrometric measurements), for Target of Opportunity observations (transients such as supernovae, active asteroids, gamma-ray bursts), and for Treasury programs, offering broad science reach and providing high-level data products for the community. They may also apply for joint observations with Hubble, but no other observatories, at least in Cycle 1. There will be opportunities to apply for Archival research programs based on analysis of public Cycle 1 datasets (from ERS programs and some GTO programs), Theory programs and Community Software programs. 

In summary, we have developed a revised schedule outline for the JWST Cycle 1 GO proposal process. The Call will be re-issued around New Year 2020, with the proposal deadline in the March–May timeframe and the TAC meeting scheduled for the summer of that year. 

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HST @ STScI Update

Rachel Osten (osten[at]stsci.edu)


This newsletter article summarizes some of the recent activities undertaken by STScI to keep the astronomy community informed about Hubble's performance and to involve the community in Hubble's long-term planning.  A new feature at AAS meetings now includes STScI Town Halls, of which Hubble activities are one component. A special session at the upcoming winter AAS meeting will include presentations and discussions about how the telescope can remain relevant and at the forefront of astronomy into the next decade. Hubble observing opportunities now include several special initiatives; the article describes these and the reasoning behind them.  The article finishes with a delineation of a new strategic initiative using Director’s Discretionary time to maximize Hubble's UV legacy.

STScI Town Halls at AAS Meetings

The very first STScI Town Hall took place during the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Denver this past June, as a venue for informing the community about the science operations and other strategic activities in which the Institute is leading efforts. The agenda started with a welcome and opening by the director, Ken Sembach, followed by descriptions of innovations in data science at STScI; open development of community software for astronomical data analysis; new capabilities and opportunities for Hubble in the next decade; and WFIRST science and the AAS community. The Town Hall was well attended, and a lively discussion followed the presentations.

With the approval of another STScI Town Hall at the upcoming 233rd winter AAS meeting, the Institute aims to make this a regular feature of AAS meetings. The format for the winter Town Hall will start with a few general talks on the work done at STScI, followed by a more focused block of quick talks on our involvement in planetary science. This will include Hubble research highlights in planetary science, upcoming solar system and exoplanet campaigns, and descriptions of new tools and archive abilities relevant to planetary scientists.


Hubble and its instruments are healthy, and projections for its lifetime indicate that it will be operating well into the next decade. New tools and observing modes refresh and extend Hubble’s science grasp, even nine years after the last servicing mission (see the article on recent advances in tools and observing modes in this Newsletter). Hubble’s science portfolio is driven by community requests for the telescope’s unique capabilities, evolving instrument modes, and rich archive.  Given this perspective, are there changes for Hubble that will enable it to remain at the forefront of the changing astronomical landscape foreseen in the next decade? A special session at the upcoming winter AAS meeting in Seattle, WA will highlight new results coming out of the observatory in some of the forefront science areas in which Hubble has excelled, and will start a dialogue between its science operations center and the scientific community about the role Hubble should play in the science of the 2020s.  The session, “A Hubble Space Telescope for the 2020s: Capabilities and Opportunities,” is currently scheduled for January 10, 10:00–11:30 a.m.

Special Initiatives for Observing Programs

STScI utilizes special initiatives in order to focus the proposal selection to achieve high level strategic goals making use of Hubble’s unique capabilities. These are always based on community input from working groups and are endorsed by the Space Telescope Users’ Committee. For instance, the UV Initiative, in place since Cycle 21, encourages submissions in nearly all categories of proposals which seek to utilize Hubble’s particular capability in accessing the ultraviolet (UV) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Telescope Allocation Committees (TACs) have been encouraged to devote at least 40% of their orbit allocation to UV-specific science; these levels are advisory, not quotas, and all accepted Hubble proposals must meet the high bar of outstanding scientific quality. Starting in Cycle 24, a Webb Preparatory Program has existed to enable science observing programs anticipated for Webb that can be enhanced or expanded through the inclusion of Hubble time prior to the Webb observations. Proposals in this category are evaluated on the science case of both the Hubble and anticipated Webb observations. A special call for proposals to learn more about Europa and its plumes took place in Cycle 25. This followed the recommendations of an advisory committee convened to recommend a cohesive action plan for Hubble observations following the announcement of a detection and subsequent lack of detections by competing groups. Starting in Cycle 26, a Fundamental Physics Initiative seeks proposals for Hubble to make critical contributions to our understanding of dark energy, dark matter, and other aspects of fundamental physics.

These suggestions originate in the community's desire to exploit the singular capabilities of Hubble. The Webb Initiative, for instance, was one of the major outcomes of the HST 2020 call for white papers in the winter of 2014–2015. The special call for Europa proposals came out of the Europa Advisory Committee, formed of external planetary scientists who advised the director on the best way for Hubble to support planning for future missions. The committee sought input from the community, as well as discussions on the priorities of future potential Europa missions with relevant NASA officials. The culmination was a recommendation for a dedicated proposal call, which happened in the fall of 2017. The Fundamental Physics Initiative likewise came out of a committee formed to provide advice on future strategies to implement appropriate observing programs with Hubble. Community members provided input to the recommendations of this committee as well.

A Strategic Initiative to Cement Hubble's UV Legacy

STScI Directors have a long history of strategic use of Director’s Discretionary (DD) time for large observing programs.  The original Hubble Deep Field came out of then-director Bob Williams’ desire to make fundamental advancements in galaxy evolution with the observatory's deep stare. The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field and Hubble Frontier Fields Initiatives had similar origins. These initiatives are different from the targeted observing initiatives described in the previous section, because they come out of DD time. There is a common thread between the two types of initiatives of community involvement. The current STScI Director has assembled a Hubble UV Legacy Working Group chaired by Prof. Sally Oey (University of Michigan) to investigate the use of DD time for fundamental advances in stars and star formation. The key goal is to extend knowledge of the universe through the unique UV observing capabilities available only with Hubble. This came about after consultation with the Space Telescope Users’ Committee and the science community. It will involve between 600 and 1000 orbits, and address science questions large enough that they fall outside of the scope of the normal proposal process. The initiative will include the creation of legacy datasets, as well as theoretical models and simulation data. The working group has been tasked with defining the science case, recommending and prioritizing observations necessary to complete the science goals of the initiative, and identifying coordinated observations that may be necessary to extend the reach of the Hubble observations themselves. The working group is currently meeting, and is expected to produce a white paper on its findings by winter 2019.


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Hubble’s Gyros Cause a Stir

Rachel Osten (osten[at]stsci.edu) and Tom Brown (tbrown[at]stsci.edu)

We describe recent gyroscope behavior on Hubble which caused a short-term interruption to normal science operations. Hubble has returned to observing with three gyroscopes and is continuing to perform groundbreaking science.

The 2018 Volume 35, Issue 01 of the STScI Newsletter article discussed the status and behavior of two of Hubble’s gyroscopes, noting the increased level of jitter and large bias rate drifts on Gyro-2, and the sudden failure of Gyro-1 in April. Gyro-5 was the first of the six to fail, in March, 2014. Gyro-2 continued to exhibit occasional performance problems throughout the spring and summer which resulted in intermittent guide star acquisition and re-acquisition failures. During this time, the flight operations team at Goddard Space Flight Center and the planning and scheduling teams at STScI worked valiantly to implement mitigations to enable successful acquisitions and thus extend the observatory lifetime in 3-gyro mode. On October 5, Gyro-2 suffered a long-anticipated catastrophic failure.

Hubble's Gyro
Exploded view of a gyro.

The recovery plan involved bringing up Gyro-3, which had been held in reserve since 2011. The complement of remaining gyroscopes (3, 4, and 6) are of an enhanced design which should overcome some of the limitations of the previous generations of gyroscopes installed on the observatory. Their greatly enhanced expected lifetime significantly extends the overall observatory lifetime. The behavior of this gyro was not within performance limits when it was brought into the control loop, however, exhibiting much larger than expected gyro rate bias levels (essentially a large systematic error on the sensed motion of the vehicle). For the ensuing two+ weeks, several activities attempted to bring the gyro into acceptable levels of performance, including toggling between operational states, vehicle maneuvers, and a running restart of the gyroscope. A combination of these activities ultimately had the desired effect, bringing the rate bias levels into an acceptable range to be useable for normal science operations. All during this time Hubble’s instruments were protected and awaiting recovery. 

The observatory resumed normal science operations under three-gyro control on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2:10 AM EDT.

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New Tools and Observing Modes for Hubble

Jay Anderson (jayander[at]stsci.edu), Varun Bajaj (vbajaj[at]stsci.edu), Charles R. Proffitt (proffitt[at]stsci.edu), Jenna Ryon (ryon[at]stsci.edu) Elena Sabbi (sabbi[at]stsci.edu), Kailash Sahu (ksahu[at]stsci.edu, Ravi Sankrit (rsankrit[at]stsci.edu), Clare Shanahan (cshanahan[at]stsci.edu), and Daniel E. Welty (dwelty[at]stsci.edu)


More than nine years after the most recent servicing mission to Hubble, the instrument teams at the Institute are continuing to update the capabilities of the four operating instruments with new observing modes and tools.  A new searchable database in MAST gives users the ability to construct detailed point-spread function (PSF) libraries to create accurate models of the PSF behavior on the UVIS channel on WFC3. A new observing mode on STIS enables high signal-to-noise, moderate-resolution spectra of bright targets. New observing modes on COS improve the observing efficiency and permit background-limited science at short wavelengths. Careful study of the pixel stability in the ACS Wide-Field Channel mitigates the effect of accumulated radiation damage and enables more pixels to be used for science.

WFC3 Team Enables Lookup Search of 22 Million Point-Spread Functions

The WFC3 team has enabled a lookup tool to aid observers seeking detailed information about the point-spread function of the UVIS channel. The team has identified nearly 22 million high signal-to-noise images of non-saturated point sources in WFC3/UVIS observations. The dataset was collected between May 2009 and May 2017, and can now be downloaded from the MAST portal using the “WFC3 UVIS PSF advanced search” interface. The database is updated yearly to include new sets of non-proprietary observations, with the last update in Spring 2018. Users can search the database to select sources based on different parameters, such as filter, telescope focus level, position on the detector, signal to noise, background value, exposure time, date, Right Ascension and Declination, FGS lock, and UVIS aperture. Figure 1 displays the WFC3 UVIS PSF search interface.

In a single submission, users can download up to 50,000 sets of PSFs, each set consisting of 21 × 21 pixel cutouts from the original UVIS (_raw,_flt, and _flc) files. They can also download a table containing the relevant details (rootname, filter, x/y position, flux, obs-date, etc.) of up to 500,000 PSFs in a single submission. The images are intended for those projects that would benefit from an accurate understanding of the UVIS point-spread function and its dependence on the telescope focus on a specific location, but do not have enough sources to create an accurate model. In the coming year, the team will release a similar database for the WFC3/IR channel, along with python-based data-analysis tools to assess the focus level of an image and to perform focus-dependent, PSF-fitting analysis in crowded fields.

WFC3 UVIS PSF Database
Figure 1: Example database search of the WFC3 UVIS Point-Spread Function Lookup in MAST. Filtering columns can be selected on the left, while selection parameters for each field can be specified on the right.

STIS Provides New Observing Mode for Spatial Scanning

Spatial scanning with the STIS CCD is a recently enabled, available-but-unsupported mode for obtaining moderate resolution, high S/N ratio spectra of relatively bright targets. This technique trails the target in the spatial direction within one of the long STIS apertures. Although high S/N-ratio spectra can also be obtained by deliberately saturating the CCD detector at a fixed pointing (e.g., Gilliland et al. 1999), spatial scans provide several distinct advantages. In particular, spatial scans should allow better averaging over flat-field variations, more robust removal of bad pixels and cosmic rays, and more complete correction for the fringing seen in the CCD spectra beyond 7000 Å. There are several possible scientific applications for this new observing mode. For example, spatial scans can enable more reliable detection of weak stellar and interstellar absorption features—particularly at red and near-IR wavelengths, where ground-based observations can be severely compromised by strong telluric absorption and where the fringing in pointed CCD observations can be difficult to remove. Spatial scans may also enable the very accurate monitoring of stellar fluxes, both broad-band and in narrower spectral intervals, that is needed for characterizing transiting exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Several programs have begun to explore the technical aspects and scientific capabilities of this new observing mode. In one calibration program (PID 15383; PI C. Proffitt), long-trailed images of the white dwarf GRW+70 5824 and trailed G750L spectra of the well-studied exoplanet host star 55 Cnc were obtained in order to check the alignment of the trails with the apertures and the alignment of the fringing pattern in the trailed spectra with that in the flat-field exposures. In addition, two sets of ten shorter trailed G750L spectra of 55 Cnc were obtained through the wide 52 × 2 aperture, in order to assess the consistency of the fluxes derived from those spectra. Preliminary analyses of these data have yielded some encouraging results regarding the alignment and flux stability of the trailed spectra; see the 2018 July STIS STScI Analysis Newsletter for more details. Three GO programs (PIDs 14705, 15429, and 15478; PI M. Cordiner) have obtained trailed G750M/9336 spectra of a number of heavily reddened stars, in an attempt to detect and characterize several weak diffuse interstellar bands attributed to C60+. The absence of telluric absorption and the effective removal of the fringing pattern in these trailed STIS spectra (Figure 2) have enabled very high S/N ratios in the final extracted spectra (e.g., S/N ~ 600–800 for BD+63 1964; see Figure 1 in Cordiner et al. 2017).

Example of spatial scanning with STIS.
Figure 2:  Trailed G750M/9336 exposure of a bright star from program 14705 illustrating the technique of spatial scanning for STIS. In these images, wavelength increases to the right, and the star was scanned in the vertical direction along the length of the narrow 52 × 0.1 aperture. At the left is the raw image.  In the center, the fringing pattern has been effectively removed by dividing by a contemporaneous flat-field image—allowing reliable detection of the weak absorption features (vertical dark bands). Instability in the trail rate and the effects of jitter can produce noticeable flux variations as a function of position along the trail direction, however. At the right, those variations have been removed (along with most cosmic rays and hot pixels). The corresponding 1D extracted spectrum is shown in Cordiner et al. (2017).

COS Creates New FUV Modes

Improved Observing Efficiency and Background-Limited Science

Starting in Cycle 26, observers using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph will have two new far-ultraviolet (FUV) observing modes: G160M/1533 and G140L/800 have recently been commissioned. The G160M/1533 mode extends the G160M coverage by 44 Å towards shorter wavelengths to overlap with the longest wavelengths of the G130M/1222 mode. This allows for high signal-to-noise (S/N), medium-resolution spectra to be obtained over a broad range of wavelengths using only two settings, G130M/1222 and G160M/1533. Reaching high S/N requires that observations be obtained at all four FP-POS, which is possible for the G130M/1222 and G160M/1533 modes, but not for the existing G130M/1291 mode (Figure 3, top panel). Covering the full FUV bandpass at high S/N without the new mode required an additional observation using the G130M/1327 setting. Therefore, by reducing the number of settings needed, G160M/1533 offers a substantial saving in exposure time.

The G140L/800 mode, originally explored in a Cycle 19 Guest Observer Calibration Program (PID: 12501, PI: S. McCandliss), places a broad range of wavelengths (800–1950 Å) on segment A of the COS FUV channel. With the spectrum on a single segment, there is no gap in the wavelength coverage as happens with the G140L/1280 mode. The G140L/800 mode has been optimized to reduce the astigmatic height of the spectrum in the region below ≈1100 Å, allowing for a reduced extraction height, and thereby a decreased detector background. Correspondingly higher S/N is achievable at these wavelengths compared to spectra obtained on segment B using the G140L/1280 mode. Spectra obtained using these two modes are in Figure 3 (bottom panel), and show the difference in astigmatic heights, which are 15–20 pixels for G140L/800, and about twice that (30–40 pixels) for G140L/1280 in the 900–1100 Å wavelength region. The goal is to obtain a flux calibration accuracy of 10–20% at these short wavelengths with the new mode.

COS wavelength coverage
Figure 3: Top panel – COS FUV wavelength ranges for each setting, with the new modes labeled in bold. The four horizontal lines for each setting indicate the four FP-POS settings. The diagonal black lines are the wavelengths that fall on gain-sagged regions of the detector due to Ly-α on G130M/1291. The overlap region between the G130M/1222 and the new G160M/1533 mode is indicated by the green rectangle. Note that the long-wavelength limit of 1800 Å has been artificially imposed for display purposes. Bottom panel – COS 2D spectra of white dwarf WD0308-565 obtained using G140/800/FUVA (left) as part of the flux calibration program for the new mode (PID 15483), and G140L/1280/FUVB (right) as part of the LP4 flux calibration program (PID 14910). The spectra are shown in detector coordinates, and the display ranges have been chosen to align the profile centers along the cross-dispersion (YFULL) axis. The smaller astigmatic height for G140L/800 is apparent.

ACS Saves Pixels for Science

As radiation damage to the ACS Wide Field Channel (WFC) detectors accumulates over time, pixels with anomalously high dark current rates become increasingly prevalent. These “hot” and “warm” pixels are flagged in the DQ extensions of science images during calibration and typically discarded by users. In 2017, an analysis of pixel stability in dark images over the history of ACS determined that the vast majority of hot and warm pixels are stable over time (Borncamp et al. 2017). In recent data, about 1.3% of total detector pixels are considered hot, whereas 0.002% of the total are hot and unstable. While hot, stable pixels are noisier than normal pixels due to elevated dark current, they can be subtracted accurately from science images during dark correction. Therefore, they can be “saved” for scientific use, i.e., no longer treated as unusable. Pixels that are determined to be unstable cannot be reliably removed during calibration, and are now assigned the DQ flag 32. Unstable pixels, which make up about 0.12% of the detector, should be ignored during scientific analysis. Figure 4 shows the stability metric calculated for each pixel as a function of pixel intensity in dark images from two anneal intervals.

Hot pixels can also give rise to hot columns during readout of the ACS/WFC detectors. This occurs because the readout time of a full-frame ACS/WFC image is about 100 seconds, allowing significant dark current to be deposited by hot pixels during each parallel transfer of charge packets. A column-based stability analysis, similar to that for individual pixels, properly identifies stable and unstable columns (Ryon et al. 2017b). Just as with hot/warm individual pixels, the stable hot columns can also be accurately subtracted during bias correction, even though they are noisier than normal columns. Unstable hot columns cannot be accurately subtracted during bias correction, and are now assigned the bias structure DQ flag 128, which allows users to discard these columns during later analysis.

Stability of pixels in ACS WFC.
Figure 4: WFC dark current stability analysis for calibration dark images taken during month-long periods between anneals prior to (left) and after (right) Servicing Mission 4 (SM4). The vertical axis shows the stability metric, the ratio of measured to Poisson-estimated variance of each pixel’s intensity in the set of dark images; the horizontal axis shows the mean pixel intensity. Each point is color-coded according to the density of pixels located in a given region of parameter space. The differences between the panels stem from the addition of post-flash electrons to the dark images from January 2015 onwards. The dotted green curve is the stability threshold: above this curve (red arrows) pixels are rejected as unstable in the data quality (DQ) extension during calibration. All other pixels, including most hot pixels (green vertical line), are now retained as usable (albeit noisy). Note that saturated pixels (indicated by purple arrows) are nominally stable, but are independently flagged as unusable.


Borncamp, D., Grogin, N., Bourque, M., & Ogaz, S. 2017, Pixel History for Advanced Camera for Surveys Wide Field Channel, ACS ISR 2017-05, STScI

Cordiner, M. A.,  et al. 2017, ApJ, 843L, 2

Gilliland, R. L. et al. 1999, PASP, 111, 1009

Ryon, J. E., Grogin, N. A., & Coe, D. 2017, Accounting for Readout Dark in ACS/WFC Superbiases, ACS ISR 2017-13, STScI


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Director’s Discretionary Proposals with Hubble: An Overview of the Program

A. Fox (afox[at]stsci.edu)


Astronomical events can happen unexpectedly. Supernovas explode. Comets fragment. Variable stars flare. Planetary atmospheres evolve. Gravitational wave sources emit electromagnetic counterparts. When time-variable phenomena such as these occur, Hubble can be used for rapid follow-up observations via the Director’s Discretionary (DD) program. Hubble’s great heritage of pushing the frontier of astronomy is well served by a strong and productive DD program. In this Newsletter article, we review this program and review process. We also present statistics of the submitted and accepted DD proposals over the last five Hubble Cycles, to identify the characteristics of successful proposals and the usage of the DD program by the community.

The DD Program

Around 10% of the available observing time on Hubble is reserved for allocation at the discretion of the Director. Historically, a significant part of this percentage has been allocated to very large, community-driven programs including the Hubble Deep Field, Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, the Multi-Cycle Treasury Programs, and the Frontier Fields. Other DD orbits may be used to provide Mission Support observations for other NASA observatories. The remaining part is available for general DD proposals that can be submitted throughout the year to follow-up on new discoveries and time-variable phenomena. Around 100 orbits of Hubble time are allocated per year to these general DD proposals, which are the subject of this article.

The Review Process 

DD proposals can be submitted at any time. They are prepared according to formatting guidelines given online, which describe the page limits and section requirements. Once a DD proposal is submitted, members of the Science Policies Group (a team of several astronomers within the Science Mission Office) perform an initial internal review of the proposal. This involves determining whether the proposal could wait for an upcoming mid-cycle proposal deadline or annual General Observer (GO) proposal deadline with no loss of scientific return; whether the proposal is a resubmission of a recent unsuccessful GO program; and whether the proposal duplicates any other active proposal, such as a target-of-opportunity (ToO) program. If a proposal passes this initial review, it is then sent out for external review, usually to three or four referees, selected to be experts in the field of study. Over the last five cycles, 57% of DD proposals were sent out for external review.

The external referees are asked to comment on the scientific merits of the proposal, specifically on whether the proposal meets the high standard expected for all Hubble observations, whether the observations need to be taken from space as opposed to using a ground-based telescope, and whether the orbit request is justified. Based on the reviews received from the external referees, the Science Policies Group forms a recommendation for the Director, and meets to discuss the merits of the proposal. The Director then makes the final decision.

In some cases, the external referees offer unanimous recommendations, and the final recommendation made to the Director is straightforward. In other cases, the referees may have differing opinions, and the various considerations have to be weighed together to form a final recommendation. Over the last five cycles, the overall DD proposal success rate has been 43%.

DD Observations

Hubble’s scheduling system, in which observations are scheduled in one-week blocks known as calendars, makes rapid-response observations more challenging than with ground-based observatories. Nonetheless, in the most compelling cases, DD observations can be scheduled within a few days of a proposal being submitted (this involves interception and redesign of the current week’s observing calendar). More commonly, they are scheduled within a timescale of weeks to months, depending on the properties of the source and the demands of the science case. DD observations typically have no proprietary period, and the data are thus made publicly available in the archive as soon as they are downlinked from the telescope. DD programs are typically less than five orbits in size, though larger requests can be considered if sufficiently justified.

Statistics of Approved DD Proposals

Using a database of all 171 DD proposals submitted in the period from July 2013 to February 2018, we analyzed the success rates of DD proposals based on a number of different factors. The results are shown in Table 1 and Figure 1. In particular, we looked at the science category, location of Principle Investigator (PI), gender of PI, and Hubble instrument. This allows us to build a global picture of the DD program—who is using it and what they are using it for. Hubble Heritage proposals (designed to take high-quality astronomical images for education and public outreach purposes) are not included in this analysis. The 171 proposals analyzed contain a total orbit request of 1247 orbits.

Table 1: Success Rates of DD Proposals by Category

Proposal Category

Number Submitted

Number Accepted

Success Rate (%)





By science category:




Solar System
























By location of PI:




















By gender of PI:












By instrument*:

























* Note: for multi-instrument proposals, only prime instrument is counted in the statistics.

Table 1 reveals some interesting trends. In terms of science area, the DD program is heavily used by the solar system community, particularly for observations of comets, asteroids, gas-giant planets, trans-Neptunian objects, and planetary moons. Various types of variable stars (such as novas, transients, binaries, X-ray sources, and magnetars), and supernovas (which we treat as a separate category) also account for a significant fraction of DD usage. DD proposals on supernovas have a notably high success rate, at 60%. In contrast, galaxies do not represent a large sector for DD usage, despite their significant fraction of all Hubble GO observations—only one DD proposal on galaxy evolution has been approved in the last five years. The reason for this is that galactic phenomena do not change on short timescales, and so observations can almost invariably wait for the next annual proposal cycle (or mid-cycle deadline). The other scientific categories of DD proposal are active galactic nuclei and intergalactic medium (AGN/IGM), and exoplanets, particularly those that are variable in time.

The gender statistics of DD proposals are also noteworthy. Only 15.8% of DD proposals (27 out of 171) submitted during the last five years were led by women (as opposed to 25.5% of GO proposals led by women through the annual TAC process over the last five cycles). However, the success rate for women-led proposals was slightly higher than for men, at 48.1% (13 out of 27) vs. 41.7% (60 out of 144). The small sample size and consequent large statistical uncertainties should be kept in mind, as should the fact that these successful women-led proposals include several by the same PI. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that DD proposals do not appear to show the same difference between success rates for men and women PIs that has been identified among Hubble GO proposals over many consecutive cycles (Reid 2016, PASP, 126, 923).

US-based PIs account for the majority of all Hubble DD proposals, submitting 66.1% of the total, whereas PIs from ESA countries account for a further 28.7%, with comparable success rates in both cases. By instrument, WFC3 accounts for the largest fraction of DD proposals, both submitted and accepted, as is the case in the annual Hubble TAC. That being said, all four of Hubble’s principal active instruments (ACS, COS, STIS, WFC3) are regularly used as part of the DD program, and one proposal with the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) was approved and successfully executed.

Maximizing Your Chances of Being Awarded DD Time on Hubble 

If you are considering submitting a DD proposal for Hubble observations, ask yourself if your science case can wait until the next mid-cycle or annual proposal deadline, and if it can be done from the ground. If the answer to both these questions is no, you may have a good case for a DD proposal. Stick to the page limits, include a clear abstract, ensure the main scientific goals and the time-criticality of the observations are well articulated, ensure the orbit request is well justified, and, if the proposal is for follow-up of a recent discovery, describe the discovery observations. Finally, check the real-time list of approved DD programs, to make sure nobody has already secured Hubble observations of the same target. 

The full policy regarding DD proposals is given in the Hubble Call for Proposals.

Fox Fig 1
Figure 1:   Distributions of DD Proposal by Category, for submitted proposals.
Fox Fig 2
Figure 2:   Distributions of DD Proposal by Category, for accepted proposals.


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Removing the Institute's Dependence on IRAF (You can do it too!)

S. Ogaz (ogaz[at]stsci.edu) and E. Tollerud (etollerud[at]stsci.edu)


There's no way around it, the community-workhorse Image Reduction and Analysis Facility (IRAF) is getting on in years. It has served astronomy for three productive and fruitful decades and is appreciated by many. But as with many things in the software realm, the landscape has changed significantly since the inception of IRAF. Most modern astronomy analysis tools are built in languages like Python, IDL, and C/C++. As the tide has turned towards these newer languages, IRAF has become more and more difficult to build and maintain on current 64-bit architectures. A large portion of the IRAF tasks cannot be compiled as a 64-bit executable, and must be built as a 32-bit program. For these reasons the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) has been working towards IRAF independence for all our instrumentation and calibration work. This effort has included the development of transition resources, re-writes of older IRAF scripts, and some additions to Astropy (the current community-supported Python Astronomy package) when needed. If you are interested in transitioning from IRAF, this article is for you.

De-IRAFing the institute was made possible by both cross-divisional communications and effort within the institute, and making extensive use of GitHub. To ensure a smooth transition, the Data Analysis Tools Branch worked closely with the Instruments Division, the HST Mission Office and the Data Science Mission Office to gather the needs and requirements of STScI staff, as well as feedback and testing through the development of new tools.  GitHub was an effective forum to track the work being done, as well as feedback and reviews from internal users. In particular, GitHub became indispensible for the project when communication was needed with Astropy on existing community tools, and for having Instruments Division staff review new transition content.

The STAK Notebooks

If you browse through Astropy or the IDL Astronomy User's Library you'll notice that some of the most used IRAF functions have been replicated in Python and IDL. But sometimes it can be a bit daunting to put together a set of unfamiliar commands when switching to a new language. We recognize this, and to address it have developed a translation resource for both the STScI and the external community. This is the essence of the STAK Notebooks: a collection of Jupyter Notebooks available to download or as an online reference

Jupyter notebooks are the ideal tool for this type of resource. A Jupyter notebook is a web application that can contain live code, visualizations, and narrative text. If the individual notebook is opened locally, the user can run individual sections of code, edit, and save their changes. The notebooks also translate nicely to HTML so that they can be posted as online documentation. For a broader introduction to Jupyter notebooks see their quick-start guide.

The STAK notebooks are organized by IRAF module, with each section showing a Python example of a particular IRAF task. We attempted to cover some of the most commonly used IRAF tasks, including images.imutil, tables.ttools, and images.imfilter. Figure 1 shows an example of the online documentation for the IRAF task tables.fitsio.catfits. You’ll see that there are several boxes containing code for each task. The imports will always be in the top, followed by the Python code used to provide the task functionality. If this notebook were to be downloaded locally, the code segments could be run interactively. There are 19 sub-packages in total currently covered in the STAK notebooks. We have also included some introductory materials for new Python users. In addition to the STAK notebooks, we are also migrating a handful of STIS post-pipeline user tools to the Python stistools library.

We highly encourage community users to contribute to these transition notebooks! This is an open-source project and we will happily accept pull requests. If you have found a good Python replacement for an IRAF task you commonly use, it would be of great value to the community to include it in this resource. 

Screenshot from the online Stak documentation
Figure 1:  Screenshot from the online STAK documentation for the IRAF task catfits.

Future Developments

With the transition from IRAF to a more mainstream programming language (Python) it is important to realize that there has also been a major change in workflow. The traditional IRAF workflow consists of individual tasks that take a FITS file as input, run a data processing algorithm on the input file, and return an updated output file for the user. However, in Python data manipulation is more a flow of operations expressed in regular code than individual tasks that operate on files. You can read a bit more about this in the Introduction section of the STAK notebooks, along with an introduction to FITS I/O. 

While the STAK Notebook effort was primarily to remove IRAF dependencies in the internal STScI workflow, within the next few years, STScI will slowly phase out active support of our IRAF/PyRAF-based software as well. We will continue the distribution of the Astroconda Python 2.7 environment which includes PyRAF, but this will be frozen and there will be no updates for dependencies, bug fixes, and user support.

The end of IRAF support in the community is a challenge best overcome by teamwork. Contributions from the community can be made in various ways. As stated above, additions to the STAK notebooks would be very welcome, but there are other ways to help. Astropy has been the hub of astronomy-tool development in Python for quite a few years now, but there is always more work to be done. The perspective of newer Astropy users is especially valuable, and specific feedback can be communicated through issues on the GitHub repository.  Even more helpful are contributions (via GitHub pull requests) from the community, even if it's a small change to make the documentation more clear. There is currently active development on tools for spectroscopy, photometry, and world-coordinate systems underway within the Astropy community, and now is a good time to test early releases and request features or suggest changes.


We would like to thank all the staff members of the institute who participated in this effort and provided feedback on the STAK notebooks. This project could not have been a success without the teamwork shown by the institute staff. We would also like to thank Cristina Oliveira for acting as our INS liaison during this project.

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Artificial Intelligence Techniques Used in the SPIKE Planning and Scheduling System

M. Giuliano (giuliano[at]stsci.edu)

The SPIKE system is a software tool kit for planning and scheduling astronomical observations that was built at the Institute for Hubble long-range planning and is in the final stages of preparation for use with JWST. This article reviews Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based techniques that SPIKE incorporates to produce plans and schedules for these missions.

During World War Ⅱ the field of Operations Research developed techniques, such as integer programming, for solving logistical optimization problems like managing supply chains and scheduling. AI search algorithms were born out of the shortcomings of these techniques. A first problem faced by operations research techniques was that scheduling problems often have a very large space of solutions to optimize. Consider that scheduling involves ordering objects and that given N objects there are N! different orderings (i.e., N * N – 1 * N – 2 … * 1).  So for a typical Hubble cycle of 4,500 visits, there are ~2 × 1014487 different orderings. In contrast, the estimated number of stars in the universe is 1021.  This computational explosion prevented operations research techniques from being directly used and motivated the use of heuristic search strategies.  A second problem for classical operations research techniques was that in many scheduling problems the goal to be solved is itself fuzzy and cannot be quantified in a form that can be used for optimization software. Below, I show how AI related techniques have been incorporated into the SPIKE system to handle these problems.

AI search algorithms can be divided into those using a systematic approach to explore a problem space versus those that use stochastic methods to randomly explore the space. SPIKE incorporates both approaches in its toolbox. The basic idea of systematic search algorithms is to use heuristic rules that embed knowledge about what makes a good schedule to guide the system towards better or good enough solutions. A common systematic approach is greedy search. In this approach, the scheduler iterates through all observations to be scheduled, choosing a time for each observation. Heuristics are used to drive the ordering in which observations are considered, and the assignment of a time for each observation. Each choice is greedily made based on the current state of the schedule. For example, a greedy search will often pick the most constrained observations to schedule first and pick a time for the observation based on an estimated least amount of congestion. An augmentation of this approach is guess-and-repair algorithms. First, an initial guess does a greedy search for all observations and then another set of heuristics is used to repair the schedule. SPIKE provides multiple methods for guess-and-repair schedules. In the conflict counting approach, the initial guess creates a schedule which greedily selects times with minimal conflicts for each observation (i.e., observations scheduled at the same time). The repair phase then attempts to remove conflicts by moving observations with the highest number of conflicts. In an iterative repair approach, the system systematically tries to repair conflicts by moving larger chains of observations to remove a conflict. In the first iteration, the algorithm attempts to move observations from conflicted to non-conflicted times. In the second iteration, the algorithm attempts to remove conflicts by first moving some non-conflicted observation from one non-conflicted time to another non-conflicted time, and then moving the conflicted observation into the time slot originally occupied by the non-conflicted observation. This procedure continues increasing the length of the chain of moved observations until the solution is good enough or some maximum length is reached.

While systematic search uses knowledge-based heuristics to guide each step, a stochastic search uses random methods to generate schedules, and then uses metrics to pick the best schedule. The SPIKE tool kit supports the use of genetic algorithms that evolve a population of good schedules through a stochastic process that mimics biological evolution. Starting with an initial population of schedules generated randomly or by heuristics, the algorithm repeatedly creates a new generation of schedules that are more “fit” according to a given schedule metric. To create a new generation, the algorithm combines random elements of the current generation to produce new candidate elements. After generating new candidates, the next generation population is determined by taking the best schedules out of the previous generation and the newly generated schedules. This generational process continues until the solution is good enough or some maximum number of generations is reached.

The SPIKE system takes a multi-objective approach to help mitigate the problem of not knowing exactly what is being optimized. In most scheduling applications, there are multiple possibly competing objectives by which the quality of a schedule is measured.  For example, for JWST, it is desirable to produce schedules that maximize time on-target and minimize dead time, slews, consumption of fuel, and the span in which observations within a single program are scheduled. Traditional approaches to scheduling create a single objective function using a weighted combination of measures for each metric. This traditional approach pre-determines the trade-offs between the competing metrics and determines a single best schedule. In multi-objective scheduling, the objectives are kept separate and the scheduling software builds a Pareto-optimal surface of potential schedules where no schedule on the surface scores worse than another schedule on the surface for all of the metrics. The end user of the scheduler is provided with a visualization tool which allows them to explore the trade-offs in the competing metrics to pick their desired best schedule.

While the AI techniques described above enable SPIKE to create high-quality plans and schedules, it is the use of a layered object-oriented architecture that allows the system to easily be adapted to different missions. SPIKE consists of layers for astronomical utilities for modeling astronomical domains, and for implementing planning and scheduling algorithms. Each layer has a controlled interface with the other layers, and elements of each layer have generic behavior that can be specialized to get the desired behavior for a specific mission. This architecture greatly simplifies the process of creating a new SPIKE application for a mission and has allowed SPIKE to be used in Hubble and JWST, as well as the SIRTF, Chandra, Subaru, and FUSE missions. 

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Introducing TESS and ExoMAST

J. Tumlinson (tumlinson[at]stsci.edu) and A. Smith (arfon[at]stsci.edu)

This year is an exciting time for exoplanet science at STScI. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite (TESS) launched from Cape Canaveral on April 18 and began collecting science data over the summer. TESS will monitor the time-dependent brightness of 200,000 stars with the main goal of detecting 50 small, rocky planets with measured masses. TESS does this with four identical cameras of 24 × 24 degree field of view that image the sky at two-second intervals. Postage stamps of the 200,000 targeted stars will be downloaded at a two-minute cadence as part of the main planet searches. Full-frame images, which will also be available via MAST, will be obtained every 30 minutes to enable a wide range of additional science projects, including exoplanets, stellar astrophysics, and transients.

STScI’s Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) is the archive for all TESS data. MAST already holds the TESS End-to-End simulated data (“ETE-6”) and the TESS input catalog of stars (the “TIC”). The first two sectors of flight data are currently being prepared for release—see the websites below for the date of this release.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Additional partners include STScI, Northrop Grumman, NASA/Ames, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. To keep up to date on TESS developments, check archive.stsci.edu/tess, tess.mit.edu, and tess.gsfc.nasa.gov, or follow @NASA_TESS and @TESSatMIT on Twitter. This field from all four cameras includes both Magellanic Clouds, which are dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, as well as a number of globular clusters and bright nearby stars. 

Figure 1. Tess first light
Figure 1:  The "First Light" image from TESS. This composite image from all four cameras shows the two Magellanic Clouds, which are dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, as well as a number of nearby globular clusters and bright stars. Image from NASA/MIT/TESS

MAST is also proud to present “ExoMAST,” a new science portal devoted to consolidating MAST’s exoplanet holdings under an easy-to-use interface (https://exo.mast.stsci.edu). Searching on a planet’s name yields metadata on the star, planet, and system properties, links to all of MAST’s data on that planet, and direct links to the metadata source publications in the ADS. Furthermore, there is an Application Programming Interface (API), that can be integrated with other software packages to enable large searches on various properties of the planet and system. ExoMAST is a collaboration between MAST and STScI’s Data Science Mission Office.

Figure 2
Figure 2:  This screen capture from ExoMAST shows the format of the comprehensive page returned by a search on the planet GJ 1214b. Planet, star, and system data is tabulated at upper left, a published transmission spectrum is shown at the upper right, and a table of all MAST's holdings from its various missions is below. 


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William Sparks Retires from STScI

D. Soderblom (soderblom[at]stsci.edu)

William ("Bill") Sparks has retired after a long career at STScI.  Bill obtained his PhD in the UK in 1982, and began at the Space Telescope Science Institute as a European Space Agency research fellow in 1986, before the launch of Hubble. After two postdoc years, he moved to an AURA staff position, and subsequently worked with Hubble instrumentation for many years, beginning as instrument scientist for the Faint Object Camera. Other positions included NICMOS group lead through its launch, and Deputy Division Head of the Instruments Division.

A particularly eventful role was as project scientist for the Early Release observations for the first Hubble servicing mission, designed to showcase the restored scientific capabilities of the observatory after its optical fix.

Prior to retirement, Sparks worked in the Community Missions Office, most recently on the TESS archive and ground system development. He was a member of the Terrestrial Planet Finder Science Working Group, the Exo-S Starshade Science and Technology Definition Team, and an investigation definition team member for the Advanced Camera for Surveys on Hubble.

William Sparks’s scientific research began with an optical study of the properties of radio galaxies, and the physics of galaxy clusters and their interstellar medium. In recent years, his research has moved into astrobiology, Solar System exploration, exoplanet detection and characterization and the search for life. He showed microbial life can be detected remotely using circular polarization, and invented a new type of polarimeter well-suited to the task.

William Sparks continues to live in Maryland and remains active in research through the SETI Institute, and we wish him well in the years ahead.

Bill Sparks
William ("Bill") Sparks retires after 32 years with the Space Telescope Science Institute.


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Karen and Zolt Levay Retire

Christine Pulliam (pulliam[at]stsci.edu)

On August 30, 2018, the Institute bid a special joint farewell to two long-time staff, spouses Karen and Zoltan (Zolt) Levay. The celebration of their careers included speeches and video tributes by current STScI colleagues, who were joined by family, friends, former coworkers, as well as the Levays’ collaborators at AURA and NASA. In all, about 200 attended to honor and thank Zolt and Karen for the significant work they did for over 30 years to further the Institute’s mission.

Zolt and Karen

Zolt Levay

Zolt Levay originally joined STScI as a contractor for Computer Sciences Corporation in 1983, developing software to translate Hubble data into images for analysis. In 1993, he joined the staff of the news office within what would become STScI’s Office of Public Outreach, working with astronomers to prepare their Hubble data for press release images.

Zolt merged his diverse skills in data processing and photography with a master’s degree in astronomy to build the visual Hubble legacy in the public consciousness. His work has resulted in some of Hubble’s—and astronomy’s—most iconic images, including the “Bubble Nebula" (NGC 7635), the Carina Nebula mosaic, and the return to the Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation” in 2015. Zolt’s efforts raised the production values for astronomical imaging from professional observatories. 

Occasionally Zolt’s work gave astronomers new insights into their research data—so much so that he was invited to be a co-author on the papers, including the paper presenting the legendary Hubble Deep Field.

Zolt plans to continue to pursue photography in retirement, in particular dark sky photography, for which he recently was awarded a residency by the National Park Service.

Karen Levay

Karen Levay joined STScI in 1997 after many years with the International Ultraviolet Explorer mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. As the Archive Science Branch Head, she was fundamental to establishing the infrastructure to transition from the Hubble data archive to a multi-mission astronomy archive called the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). These efforts resulted in establishing STScI as a major center of archival research for the worldwide astronomy community.

During the time Karen was part of the archive, it grew from a few gigabytes to around 3 petabytes of data. The archive started to methodically solicit and archive highly processed data products created by astronomers for their science that could also be useful for others in the astronomy community. Karen was integral to getting this initiative started and continuing it through many of the past 15 years. These data are considered highly valued products today.

In retirement, Karen plans to pursue her needlework and quilting hobbies and genealogy interests.

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Being Inclusive Starts with YOU!

S. Reed (sreed[at]stsci.edu)


How important is an inclusive environment to diversity? Can an individual impact how inclusive an organization is?  What can you do to make sure you are being inclusive? This article explores these questions from a personal perspective.


I recently read an article that said inclusion is the only scalable way to build diversity within an organization. Without thoughtful and deliberate discussion and action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are for naught. The employees, so painstakingly recruited, will be gone within three months to a year. The premise of the article was that companies, hiring managers, HR, etc., need to put more time into how to shift their culture in order to allow a diverse collection of people to coalesce and flourish. 

Being a member of Invision here at the Institute, I have spent a lot of time thinking about inclusion, what it means, and asking myself am I inclusive? Are there things I could be doing that are making people feel excluded? Most people tend to judge themselves on their intent, but judge others on their actions. After all, I know my intentions are good, but what are my actions saying to other people? Could I be more deliberate in my actions and speech to make our culture and environment more inclusive? What if everyone were to ask themselves this question? 

Practicalities: The Institute

What can I do to make Space Telescope Science Institute more inclusive?

Most people think that diversity and inclusion are leadership or HR topics to implement, manage and drive. However, every individual employee impacts our culture. Everyone wants to fit in, feel accepted, feel like they matter and belong. How can we expect to build a truly diverse workforce—one that attracts and engages people of all types and keeps the organization open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new people, and new leadership, if we don’t consider that individually we are part of the equation?

Our daily actions, unconscious and conscious, cultivate the experiences we are providing the people we work with. How are we making the people we work with feel? Are we using gender neutral language? Are we considering what we are talking about and whether the topic might make someone feel excluded?

Some things we could all start doing to create a stronger, more inclusive culture:

  • Bounce an idea off of someone unexpected on your team or another team.
  • Ask a new employee to go to lunch.
  • Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know.
  • Change up your environment. Go sit somewhere else in the building.
  • Rotate who runs your meetings. Give everyone on the team an opportunity.
  • Leave your assumptions at the door. Ask if you don’t know, but don’t assume.
  • Talk about something other than work. Ask about someone’s hobbies or what book they have recently read.
  • Reach out to a new employee to tell them about an Institute club in which you belong.

A diverse workforce is a company’s lifeblood, and diverse perspectives and approaches are the only means of solving complex and challenging business issues. Deriving the value of diversity means uncovering all talent, and that means creating a workplace characterized by inclusion. We can all have a positive impact and contribute to an inclusive culture.

When I leave Space Telescope I want to be remembered as someone who was good to work with and that made people feel good about themselves and their contributions. How do you want to be remembered? How will you be remembered?