ESO by the numbers

Did you know that since the start of Australia’s Strategic Partnership with ESO in 2017, Australian astronomers have submitted or been Co-investigators on a total of 638 observing proposals? Or that nearly 40% of these proposals have been successful? Statistics like these are now at the fingertips of AAL thanks to ESOStats, a new database of Australian demand for and usage of ESO time.
Twice in a normal year ESO’s Observing Programmes Office (OPO) issues a Call for Proposals and oversees the Observing Programmes Committee (OPC) allocations of observing time. Following each proposal deadline, the OPO provides AAL with a spreadsheet of proposals with an Australian PI plus any Australian Co-Is, along with a separate list of proposals led by someone outside of Australia having 1 or more Australian Co-Is. For privacy reasons, the names and affiliations of any non-Australian PIs or Co-Is is not provided. For each proposal, basic data on the runs requested (ESO Programme ID, instrument, mode, hrs requested) is provided, and this is updated after each OPC meeting with the allocated time (if any) and mode (Service or Visitor). Until recently ancillary data such as the affiliation, gender, and whether the investigator is a student or new ESO user had to be added manually by AAL staff.

In order to streamline the reporting requirements of the Dept of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources as well as AAL member institutions, in 2020 AAL contracted AAO-Macquarie to deliver a database and interface for Australian ESO proposals called ESOStats. Dr Simon O’Toole used his extensive experience at implementing similar databases in AAO Data Central, as well as the Lens proposal system for the AAT to roll out a first release of ESOStats by August. Following a period of data augmentation and extensive testing by Stuart Ryder, ESOStats went live in Nov 2020, but is only accessible by AAL staff.

Fundamentally ESOStats is a searchable database of all ESO proposal metadata since Period 101 that have 1 or more Australian investigators. As the figure above indicates, the search can be refined in numerous ways, such as by Lead Country (Australia or Other), Investigator, Institution, Student status, requested/allocated time or mode, and even Science Category. For instance, a search for all successful FORS2 proposals led by Jean-Pierre Macquart returns the following list:

Clicking on any of the Program ID links brings up a summary of the Program, including list of Australians involved, their affiliations, etc., all of which can be edited if required. Note that the Program Title is not supplied by ESO or by AAL; rather, for any successful proposal ESOStats queries the ESO archive for the given Program ID, and returns the Program Title from there. It will also retrieve the surnames of all the Co-Is, and try to match them against the Lens database of known users of the AAT. In this way a number of actual Australian ESO users and their institutions that were previously not being counted now are.

ESOStats automatically generates a lot of the standard reports on proposal demand and allocations, not just for Australian-led proposals but also those led by other ESO member states that previously were not being properly accounted for. We are even investigating ways in which ESOStats could automatically track the completion fraction for each Australian program from the presence of data in the archive. Although ESO maintains its own comprehensive Telbib library of publications using ESO data, it is not possible to filter the results for papers involving Australian authors. ESOStats is able to search the SAO/NASA ADS for such papers separately for the VLT, NTT, 3.6m, etc. and even ALMA. These are just some of the great new features of ESOStats that will be extremely important in the coming years as AAL supports DISER in making the case to government for full ESO membership by the end of the Strategic Partnership.