Space Telescope Science Institute
ACS Instrument Handbook Cycle 19
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Advanced Camera for Surveys Instrument Handbook for Cycle 19 > Chapter 5: Imaging > 5.2 Important Considerations for ACS Imaging

5.2 Important Considerations for ACS Imaging
The following characteristics of ACS should be considered when planning ACS observations or archival research:
The WFC and HRC shared two filter wheels. Consequently, when the cameras were used simultaneously, only the filter for the primary camera was selectable.
The ACS cameras are intended to be used with a single filter. Unfiltered or two-filter imaging yields significantly degraded PSFs (particularly for the WFC), so these modes are typically used only for polarization observations or HRC coronagraphic acquisitions. The polarizers have zero optical thickness, so they can and should be used with another filter.
The geometric distortion of the WFC is significant and causes the projected pixel area to vary by 9% over the field of view. This distortion affects both the photometric accuracy and the astrometric precision, and must be accounted for when the required accuracy is better than 10%.
The ratios of in- and out-of-band transmission for ACS CCD UV filters are similar to those of WFPC2, after accounting for differences in the camera’s QE. The ACS F220W, F250W, and F330W filter have small red leaks, which are documented in ACS ISR 2007-03.
The cosmic ray fluxes of HRC and WFC are comparable to those of STIS and WFPC2, respectively. Typical observations should be split or dithered for cosmic ray rejection. See Section 4.3.5 for more information about dithering strategies for removing cosmic rays and hot pixels.
The large number of parallel and serial shifts required to read out the WFC makes WFC photometry and astrometry more vulnerable to degrading charge transfer efficiency than other HST CCD cameras. Section 4.3.7 details the current expectations for CTE performance.
The default gain setting for WFC observations is GAIN=2, which well samples the read noise and the full well depth. Users may also select gains 0.5, 1.0, and 1.4, but only GAIN=2 is supported in Cycle 19 (see Section 7.6).
At wavelengths longer than ~ 8000 ┼, internal scattering in the HRC CCD produced an extended PSF halo. Only a small number of observations were affected because WFC was mostly used at these wavelengths. The WFC CCDs were treated with a front-side metallization that eliminates the large angle, long wavelength halo problem for wavelengths less than 9000 ┼. For observations of red targets with the F850LP refer to Section 9.3.2.
The ACS filter set is not as large as WFC3. In particular, WFC3/UVIS has an extensive set of narrow band filters and Str÷mgren filters that are not available with ACS. On the other hand, ACS has polarizers and ramp filters unlike WFC3.
Following the fine-alignment and focus activities of the SM3B Orbital Verification period, the optical qualities of all three ACS channels were judged to have met their design specifications. The encircled energy values for the WFC, HRC, and SBC obtained during this time are given in Table 5.4.
Table 5.4: Encircled energy measurements for the ACS channels.
WFC at 632.8 nm in 0.25 arcseconds diameter
HRC at 632.8 nm in 0.25 arcseconds diameter
SBC at 121.6 nm in 0.10 arcseconds diameter
Figure 5.7 compares the wavelength-dependent throughputs of the ACS WFC and HRC with those of WFC3/UVIS, WFC3/IR, NICMOS/NIC3, and WFPC2.
Table 5.5 contains Johnson-Cousins V magnitudes for unreddened O5 V, A0 V, and G2 V stars, generated using the Exposure Time Calculator. WFC and HRC values used the parameters CR-SPLIT=2, GAIN=2, and a 0.2 arcsecond circular aperture. For the SBC, a 0.5 arcsecond circular aperture was used. An average sky background was used in these examples. However, limiting magnitudes are sensitive to the background levels; for instance, the magnitude of an A0 V in the WFC using the F606W filter changes by 0.4 magnitudes at the background extremes. Figure 5.8 shows a comparison of the limiting magnitude for point-sources achieved by the different cameras with a signal to noise of 5 in a 10 hour exposure. Figure 5.9 shows a comparison of the time needed for extended sources to attain ABMAG=26.
Figure 5.7: HST total system throughputs as a function of wavelength. The plotted quantities are end-to-end throughputs, including filter transmissions calculated at the pivot wavelength of each broad-band filter.
Figure 5.8: HST Limiting Magnitude for point sources in 10 hours, as a function of wavelength. Point source limiting magnitude achieved with a signal to noise of 5 in a 10 hour long exposure with optimal extraction.
Figure 5.9: HST Limiting Magnitude for extended sources in 10 hours, as a function of wavelength.
Table 5.5: V detection limits for ACS, HRC, and SBC direct imaging.
O5 V (Kurucz model)
A0 V (Vega)
G2 V (Sun)
Chapter 10 contains plots of exposure time versus magnitude for a desired signal-to-noise ratio. These plots are useful for determining the exposure times needed for your scientific objectives. More accurate estimates require the use of the ACS Exposure Time Calculator (
Both CCD and SBC imaging observations are subject to saturation at high total accumulated counts per pixel. For the CCDs, this is due either to the depth of the full well or to the 16 bit data format. For the SBC, this is due to the 16 bit format of the buffer memory (see Section 4.3.1 and Section 4.5.2).
Subsequent to the replacement of the ACS CCD Electronics Box during SM4, all WFC images show horizontal striping which is constant across the full row (for both amplifiers) of each chip. This striping is the result of a 1/f noise on the bias reference voltage, and has a peak-to-peak amplitude of approximately 2.0 DN. The contribution of the stripes to the global read noise statistics is small, but the correlated nature of the noise may affect photometric precision for very faint sources and very low surface brightnesses. The striping cannot be estimated well by the WFC overscans. During Cycle 17, STScI developed and tested an algorithm for removing the stripes from calibration and general science images. The algorithm is effective when the science image is not excessively crowded such that a row-by-row background level becomes difficult to estimate. For details on the testing, please refer to the Proceedings of the 2010 Calibration Workshop. An ACS Instrument Science Report on the striping and its mitigation will be released in early 2011.
Because the stripe removal code is not universally effective, it is not currently applied as part of the ACS calibration pipeline. Instead, STScI has released the stripe removal algorithm to the community as a stand-alone task that can be run on ACS data retrieved from the HST archive. The task, acs_destripe, has been written in Python as part of the acstools package in the public release of STScI_Python available in January 2011. As a Python task, it can be run from either PyRAF, any Python interpreter or even the operating system comman-line to correct post-SM4 pipeline-calibrated (_flt.fits). Please see the ACS Web site for details on running this code.

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