Getting started with the JCMT

For more information or assistance, please see our FAQ page or contact

To get up-to-date information about the JCMT please send an e-mail to

If you’re new to using JCMT data, this page collects some of the basic accounts and software you will need to set up to use our telescope and data files. You will need to be able to:

Data Access

JCMT data can be searched and downloaded from the JCMT Science archive, hosted at the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre. Our landing page to start searching from is located here. Publicly available data can be accessed without a login. For an overview on what we provide in our Science Archive please see our Overview of the JCMT Science Archive, or for detailed help with searching and filtering results please see our CADC Users’s Guide. If you are part of a project that receives time on the JCMT, you will need a CADC username in order to access your data during its proprietary period. Sometime before data is due to be taken by your project, please create a CADC username (if you don’t already have one) through here. Then email your Friend of Project in order to for us to link your CADC username up with your JCMT OMP username and allow access to your projects data. If you were not listed on the project initially by the project’s PI, the PI may need to make the request. You will not be able to access any of your project’s data until we have manually linked these accounts.

The JCMT uses the Starlink suite of data reduction and analysis software. This includes our automated data reduction pipelines for both SCUBA-2 and our heterodyne instrumentation. Starlink is available for both Mac OSX and linux, and can either be downloaded as a binary or built from source. To install our most recent version of Starlink, please see the Starlink home page. The download  pages for each version should also have details on the installation and setup procedure.

Alternatively, on some operating systems you can use the rsync command to obtain the latest development build; see here. This can be useful if you need cutting edge features; however it is only available or a limited number of operating systems.

The Starlink software suite consists of a very large number of disparate packages, covering a huge range of astronomy related areas. Some of the most useful packages/programmes for JCMT users seeking to examine, reduce and analyse their data are:

  • GAIA — an astronomy data visualisation tool for maps and data cubes. Use this if you want to take a look at an astronomy data file. Supports both NDF and FITS, and has very good support for examination and analysis of data cubes. It also has many advanced features, for  e.g. source finding, catalogue viewing, virtual observatory interaction etc.
  • KAPPA — A variety of useful data manipulation and visualisation routines.
  • SMURF — This package is specific for submillimetre data reduction (much of it specific to the JCMT). It includes the standard commands for gridding/reducing JCMT data — ‘MAKEMAP’ for SCUBA-2 data and ‘MAKECUBE’ for heterodyne data.
  • CONVERT — Convert your data between many different formats, including the Starlink ‘NDF’ format and the standard astronomy FITS format.
  • CUPID — clump/source finding routines. Supports a variety of algorithms, including Fellwalker, ClumpFind and GaussClumps.
  • POLPACK — A collection of tools for handling imaging polarimetry data.
  • ORAC-DR and PICARD — these are our pipeline programmes. ORAC-DR is primarily used for reducing raw telescope data into scientifically useful formats. It is used as our standard pipeline, both for online reduction at the telescope and in our off-line processing. Many different recipes exist (and more can be written) to tailor a reduction for a specific science goals. PICARD is primarily used for pipeline processing of already reduced data that has been gridded — such as performing coadds, source finding, noise analysis etc. See also ORAC-DR for SCUBA-2 and ORAC-DR for ACSIS
  • SPLAT — a graphical programme for analysing spectra.
  • TOPCAT — a graphical programme for analysing catalogues in many many formats.
  • FLUXES — a programme which calculates positions, fluxes, sizes of planets which can be used for the calibration of SCUBA-2, RxA, HARP, and RxW data.

A complete list of available Starlink packages is given here.

If you are having trouble using or installing any of the Starlink software, or just need help locating a feature, please email the starlink support mailing list.

For users new to computing we recommend reading the “Good Enough Practices in Scientific Computing”  Wilson et al. 2016.

Proposal System

The JCMT uses the Hedwig proposal submission system. To create a login and submit proposals, please go to For more details on formatting submissions and what needs to be included see our help pages starting here.

Observing Tool

The Observing Tool is the JCMT’s application for creating Science Programs. This is the software used to create and upload the details (position, time, offsets etc.) of a science observation to our system. For an installation guide, see here. If you’ve already installed it, the help can be accessed here (or is also available from within the programme).


Sourceplot is a small utility that will show you a graph of the elevation vs time for any source on a given night at the JCMT. It has some standard JCMT sources built into its default catalogue, and additionally you can add a source by its RA and Dec. Multiple sources can be viewed at once.

Sourceplot is shipped as part of Starlink (see above). After running the Starlink login script you will be able to run sourceplot by typing sourceplot on the command line.

If you wish to install sourceplot separately from Starlink, you can install it either manually by going here
and downloading the tar.gz file and following the installation instructions listed in the README.

Alternatively, if you already use cpanm to manage your perl modules you can install sourceplot using that, e.g. via:

perl -MCPAN -e 'install App::SourcePlot'

Integration Time Calculators

The JCMT provides estimated integration time calculators for both SCUBA-2 and our heterodyne instrumentation. These allow you to estimate how much observing time is required to get to a given sensitivity.

Reduction/Analysis Tutorials

If you are new to the JCMT and keen to get some hands on experience with reduction and analysis of JCMT data then we recommend you looking at our reduction/analysis tutorial page.


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