Parkes Pulsar Remote Observing Guide

Version - 11 October 2017
Prepared by John Sarkissian - email contact here

All observers are encouraged to consult the Parkes Radio Telescope Users Guide for detailed instructions on how to perform a remote observation. This guide is provided as a general reminder for remote pulsar observing procedures and should not be considered a substitute for the User's Guide.

Initial Setup and Handover:

In order to begin observing, you will need a CSIRO unix account and password. If you do not have one, then please arrange to get one BEFORE you begin the observing session. Click here to apply.

In a browser, running on a machine local to the user (such as a laptop), login to the remote observing PORTAL at:

On the same machine, but in a different browser window, open the FROG at:

It is important to ensure that the local machine has its audio enabled.

If you are taking over as the designated observer, firstly, alert the current observer to begin the hand-over process by typing a message in the chat window of the PORTAL. Then click on the "Observer-in-Charge" button (the third tab from the left, near the top of the PORTAL) and register as the observer in charge.

VNC Setup:

Once the telescope has been handed over to you, open two VNC sessions on joffrey using the VNC viewer software. Each session will have a minimum of four desktops. When observing from within CSIRO (either from an onsite computer or through a VPN), open an xterm on the computer you are using for the remote observing and start the vncviewers for joffrey.

NOTE: Be sure that the viewer is in shared mode. For example, on an xterm type;

    vncviewer joffrey:1 -shared
    vncviewer joffrey:2 -shared
You will need to login with the VNC password (ask a CASS staff member for the password). This password will change at the beginning of every observing semester, so be sure to get the new password if you are observing for the first time in a semester.

Click here for details on how to open the VNC from outside of CSIRO. (Section 5.7 of the User's Guide).

The recommended setup for pulsar observations is:

On joffrey:1

  • TCS (primary) on desktop 1
  • OPERFCC, LOBOSS and LOGUI on desktop 2
  • PKMC on desktop 3

On joffrey:2

  • PDFB4 and SPD on desktop 1
  • MoniCA on desktop 2
If these are not running, then you will need to start them. For detailed instructions on how to do this, see the User's Guide:
    5.8.5 SPD
    5.8.2 OPERFCC
    5.8.3 PKMC

Click here for instructions on how to use the Quick Startup Tools

PDFB and SPD Setup:

Click here for detailed instructions on how to complete the Correlator Setup.

Start the PDFB correlator program in desktop 1 on joffrey:2. First ssh to pkccc4 as user "corr".

Open an xterm on joffrey and at the prompt, type;

    ssh pkccc4 -l corr

You must then enter the password for user "corr". If you don't know what it is, consult a Science Operations staff member. Alternatively, you can select the pkccc4 option in the "Backend Tools" tab which will open an xterm on pkccc4 as user "corr" (this procedure does not prompt you for the password).

Then at the prompt type;

    corkill      (to kill any processes still running in the background)
Next, you will need to start the SPD software.

Open another xterm on joffrey and ssh into pkccc4 as corr using the same procedure as above.

Then in the xterm, type;

Then from within the SPD program type;
    mode b             defines the mode in which the select command operates, "b" = baseline/polarisation
    sel pp11            displays the summed amplitudes v pulsar bin (all polarisations)
Other useful commands are:
    sel bi      to view the dispersed frequency v pulse phase plot
    a            to view the passband
    x            toggles the x-axis units between frequency and channel number
    chan      to view a range of channels, for example: chan 10 1000

Click here to see the complete SPD Commands provided by Warwick Wilson.

TCS Setup:

You will need to start the primary TCS. In desktop 1 on joffrey:1, open an xterm and at the prompt, type;

From the startup GUI, select the pulsar and expert mode options. Also, select the relevant recall state.

When the TCS GUI appears, connect to PDFB4. Make sure that Fold Mode is selected. If performing a search, then make sure that Search Mode is selected, instead.

Load the relevant schedule. Then, select "View" and enter the required start and end lines. Click on the "Start Sched" button to begin the observation.

Click here for more detailed instructions on how to start TCS.

TCS Versions:

Sometimes it is necessary to switch between the current and next versions of TCS. To do this, open an xterm, and at the prompt, type;
    atcsver                    (to find out which version of TCS is currently in use)
    atcsver next            (to switch to the next version)
    atcsver current        (to switch to the current version)

Selecting the Receiver:

Place the required receiver on focus by using OPERFCC. See 5.8.2 of the User's Guide.

Turn on the receiver LNAs by using the PKMC GUI. Click on "show" for the required receiver and from the pop-up GUI, click on the red LNA buttons. They will turn green when they are on.

NOTE: Be sure to switch off the LNAs for the non-required receiver. Do this by selecting "show" for the receiver on PKMC. Then from the pop-up GUI, click on the green LNA buttons to switch them off. They will turn red.

Setting Up the Downconversion System:

In order to set the downconversion system for the selected receiver, run the appropriate loscript. Open an xterm on joffrey and at the prompt, type;
    cd ~/losetup
    lorun mb.cmd                       (for the 20cm Multibeam Receiver)
    lorun 3100+732.cmd            (for the 1050cm Receiver)

These are the most commonly used loscripts for pulsar observations. However, every receiver and backend combination will have its appropriate loscript. For a full list of the loscripts available, check the ~/losetup/psr directory.

Monitoring a Pulsar Observation:

To monitor a pulsar observation as it is underway, open a new window in a web browser and go to the pulsar monitoring page at URL:
NOTE: This page is CPU intensive and can occasionally cause the computer to hang, It is important therefore, to run this from a browser on a computer separate from the one that is running the VNC observing software. It is recommended to run this on the laptop that is also running the PORTAL and the FROG. Be sure to have the audio enabled on that machine.

Creating a PDFB Pulsar Schedule:

A PDFB pulsar schedule can be created on the following web page at URL:

The web page contains instructions on how to go about producing a PDFB schedule from scratch. When completed, save the schedule and transfer it to a location that TCS can access and load.

Calculating a PDFB Pulsar File Size

A PDFB pulsar file size can be estimated on the following web page:
The web page allows you to calculate, to a first approximation, the file size of a fold mode or search mode observation, with errors of just a few percent.

Setup for the Swinburne Browser-based Backend Control

In order to use the Swinburne backends like BPSR and CASPSR, you will need to access the controls from a browser. If you are within the ATNF network, or if you have VPNed into the network from a remote site, you can go straight there at URL: However, if you are observing from a remote site and you are not in the ATNF network, you will need to tunnel into the network first. This is because hipsr-srv0 server is behind the ATNF firewall. To access this web server, it is recommended that the observer setup an ssh tunnel from the remote observer's computer to the Parkes hipsr-srv0 server. To do this, first open an xterm on your local computer and type;
    ssh -L
NOTE: ident is your CASS unix account (NOT your NEXUS account).

Now, you can open a web browser on your local computer with the URL as:

Documentation on how to use the Swinburne backends can be accessed by clicking on the "help" button at the top right-hand corner of the relevant browser window.

Produced by John Sarkissian - 7 February 2014
Updated: 11 October 2017