How to Write an AAVSOnet Proposal
The AAVSO has recently formed a a telescope allocation committee (TAC) to review proposals for AAVSOnet observing time. After reviewing a few proposals, it became clear that proposers needed guidance on how to write proposals that allow the TAC to do its job effectively. This document is an attempt to provide that guidance. If you are new to CCD observing or lack experience writing an observing proposal, the TAC will be happy to assist you in preparing a proposal or to suggest a mentor that can help you. We don't want the process to be intimidating but we do want to ensure that the AAVSOnet resources are used properly.
The job of the TAC is to ensure that the limited resources of AAVSOnet are used effectively and make valuable contributions to the science of variable stars. The primary thing to remember about your proposal is that it should make the case for the scientific value of the requested observations. Telescope time is a limited and valuable resource.
The first step in preparing a proposal to observe some object (or group of objects) is to make sure that you are familiar with its observational history. We have seen proposals where an object was said to be "poorly observed" but a quick search of the scientific literature showed very nice datasets had been obtained. Such poor knowledge of an object's history does not lead to great confidence in the proposer's abilities by the TAC. A good place to start when researching an object is the SIMBAD database at http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr where you will likely find all sorts of useful information on a given object. Among other things, SIMBAD has a reasonably reliable list of the publications that have something to do with an object. Read the papers on your object. In many cases, the authors will comment on the need for and type of additional observations. When such statements are referenced in your proposal, the TAC will consider that very positively.
After researching your object, the next step is to be sure that surveys haven't observed your object well enough to enable the necessary science. Stating that the object hasn't been observed or that the observations are insufficient for some reason (e.g., observations are needed in other filters to address a specific scientific question) will give the TAC confidence that you have properly considered these other sources. You can look for survey data starting in VSX at http://www.aavso.org/vsx/ After you have made a search on your object by name or position, VSX offers you external links to all the major surveys like ASAS-3, CRTS, NSVS and SuperWASP that may include observations for it.
At this point if you still think your object would be scientifically useful to observe, you need to make sure that the AAVSOnet resources are capable of making the observations. Obvious things to consider are the brightness of your object and its visibility from the various AAVSOnet telescopes for the dates or time period requested. The visibility question is easily answered by a planetarium program. Brightness limits, both bright and faint, can have an impact on the ability to complete your project, and it is best to check the telescope web pages to find the magnitude limits and available filters for the various instruments. It would be helpful for you to suggest a specific AAVSOnet telescope for your project (subject to change by the TAC):
and click on the telescope name.
Be specific as to the objects name and coordinates. Be specific as to the known or anticipated magnitude range of the target in at least the V filter. Be specific, if known, as to the target's type (i.e. Delta Scuti, Mira, eclipsing binary, symbiotic star, etc…). Be specific as to the requested time periods and frequency of observations, i.e., nightly from May 15-June 15; weekly from September 1 – December 31, etc. Be specific as to the filters to be used. If stacking is requested, try to be specific as to how many images are required. When you discuss such things in your proposal, the TAC can be more confident that your proposed project will be successful.
Finally some comments on specific kinds of observations that are unlikely to be approved:
1) New novae are typically put on an AAVSOnet telescope as quickly as possible, so there is no need to propose to observe them.
2) New cataclysmic variables, as there are so many of them and the potential scientific contribution of observing another one is usually too low to justify AAVSOnet time, unless it is of an unusual nature.
3) W UMa eclipsing binaries unless they have characteristics such as extremely short periods (0.25d or less), complete (total/annular) eclipses, or unusual behavior in the eclipse timing diagram where additional data can make valuable scientific contributions. The information content in partially eclipsing W UMa systems is too low to warrant spending valuable telescope time observing them.
In conclusion, remember that your job as a proposer is to convince the TAC that new observations are a) necessary, b) possible with AAVSOnet resources, and c) likely to contribute to our understanding of variable stars. Think these things out, do your research and then write a proposal that outlines all of these issues in a clear and concise way. And don't be afraid to ask for help. We look forward to receiving your proposals!