High global and local count rates can cause catastrophic damage to the
SBC detector. Therefore, targets should be checked to verify that their fluxes do not exceed the defined SBC safety limits. As a first step, you can check your source V magnitude and peak flux against the bright-object screening magnitudes in Table 7.4
for your chosen observing configuration. In many cases, your source properties will be much fainter than these limits, and you need not worry further.
However, the magnitudes in this table are hard screening limits that
correspond to the count rate limits in Table 7.3
and the output of the Exposure Time Calculator
. In earlier editions of this Handbook, these magnitudes were made fainter by arbitrary 1 or 2 magnitude pads, depending on the spectral-type range, which have now been removed. If your target is near these limits (within 2 magnitudes or a factor of 6.3 of the flux limits), then you need to carefully consider whether your source will be observable in the chosen configuration. Remember that the limits in these tables assume zero extinction. Thus, you will want to correct the limits appropriately for your source reddening due to interstellar dust.
You can use the information presented in Section 9.2
to calculate peak and global count rates. You can also use the Exposure-Time Calculator
to calculate the expected count rate from your source. The ETC
has a host of template stellar spectra. If you have a spectrum of your source (e.g., from IUE, FOS, GHRS, or STIS) you can also use it directly in the calculator. As implied by the footnotes to Table 7.4
, the model spectra in the ETC
cannot be used for bright-object checking at the solar spectral type and later; the UV spectra of such stars are dominated by emission lines and continua not reproduced by the models. For these types, more realistic theoretical or observational input spectra (e.g., from the IUE or HST
archives) must be used. The calculator will evaluate the global and per pixel count rates, and will warn you if your exposure exceeds the absolute bright-object limits. We recommend you use the Exposure Time Calculator
if you have any concern
that your exposure may exceed the bright-object MAMA limits.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you have checked your planned
observations against the brightness limits prior to proposing for Phase I. If your proposal is accepted and we, or you, subsequently determine in Phase II that your source violates the absolute limits, then you will either have to change the configuration or target, if allowed, or lose the granted observing time. We request that you address the safety of your SBC targets by means of the ACS ETC
; you may consult with an ACS Instrument Scientist via the Help Desk if needed. For SBC target-of-opportunity proposals, please include in your Phase I proposal an explanation of how you will ensure your target can be safely observed.
In Phase II, proposers of SBC observations are required to check their
targets and fields in detail for excessively bright sources, by the Phase II deadline. The relevant policies and procedures are described here.
STScI has developed bright object tools (BOT) to conduct detailed field
checking prior to SBC program implementation. These tools are based on automated analysis of the fields by means of data from the second Guide Star Catalogue (GSC2)
and displays of the Digital Sky Survey (DSS)
. GSC2 provides two magnitudes (photographic J and F), hence one color, for most fields down to about 22nd magnitude, which, combined with conservative spectral-type vs. color relationships, supports determinations of safety or otherwise for individual objects. In the best cases, these procedures allow expeditious safety clearing, but in some cases the GSC2 is inadequate because of crowding or absence of one of the filters, for instance. Then supplementary information must be provided by the proposers to support the bright object protection (BOP) process. The target should always be checked directly in the ETC
with the more detailed information generally available for it, rather than relying on its field report data.
Subsequently, automated GALEX screening has been added as a
selectable option in the BOT. The AIS (all-sky) sources are screened as unreddened O5 stars and reported as either safe or unsafe. This is a powerful tool because it is based directly on UV fluxes; e.g., previously unknown hot companions to late-type stars will be revealed. The target should still be checked with the ETC, but if the field passes it is done, subject to verification with the GALEX image. Unsafe objects require further investigation; the GALEX fluxes are upper limits in crowded regions because of the relatively low spatial resolution, or the source may clear with more specific parameter information.
STScI will check all targets and fields before any SBC observations are
cleared. However, by policy GOs must provide screened, safe targets for SBC programs, and supplementary data as needed to verify target and field safety. The APT/BOT, including an Aladin interface, makes the BOP procedures accessible for GO use. Extensive help files and training movies are available. While the procedures may appear complex on first exposure, their convenience and straightforward application rapidly become apparent. All SBC proposers must conduct BOP reviews of their targets and fields in conjunction with their Phase II preparations. Thus, they will become aware of any problems earlier, such as the need for supplementary data, which may otherwise entail lengthy implementation delays following the Phase II deadline. (An exception is moving target fields, which must be cleared after the scheduling windows have been established.) To assist with these procedures, a Contact Scientist (CS) who is an SBC/BOP specialist will be assigned to each SBC program, to interact with the GO as necessary and requested during the Phase II preparations, and through program execution.
Briefly, for a single default SBC pointing with unconstrained
orientation, a field of 70 arcseconds in diameter must be cleared. The APT/BOT automatically reports on all GSC2 stars or GALEX sources within that field. If any displacements from the default pointing (e.g., POS TARGs, patterns, or mosaics) are specified, the field to be cleared increases commensurately. POS TARG vectors and the enlarged, rotated field circles are conveniently displayed in APT/Aladin. No unsafe or unknown star may lie within 5 arcseconds of the detector edge at any orientation. Conversely, POS TARGs and orientation restrictions may be introduced to avoid bright objects in the fields. In case a single guide-star implementation becomes necessary, the field to be cleared increases to 140 arcseconds in diameter, but usually that will not become known until scheduling is attempted after the Phase II deadline.
An SBC GO must send his/her CS, by the Phase II deadline, ETC
calculations for each discrete target, and reports on any unsafe or unknown stars from APT/BOT for each field, either showing that the observations are in fact safe, or documenting any unresolved issues. In the latter case, including inadequacy of BOT/GSC2 to clear the observations, other photometric or spectroscopic data sources must be sought by the GO to clear the fields. Many of these are available directly through the APT/Aladin interface (although automatic BOP calculations are available only with GSC2 and GALEX), including the STScI Multimission Archive (MAST)
, which contains the IUE and GALEX in addition to the HST
data. An existing UV spectrum of the target or class may be imported directly into the ETC
; IUE data must be low resolution, large aperture for BOP. If model spectra are used, the original Kurucz (not Castelli & Kurucz) set should be used for early-type stars. None of the provided models is adequate for stars later than the Sun, since they lack chromospheric emission lines; actual UV data must be used for them. In worst cases, new ground based data or HST
CCD UV exposures may be required to clear the fields for BOP; in general, the latter must be covered by the existing Phase I time allocation.
If a given star has only a V magnitude, it must be treated as an
unreddened O5 star. (The older Kurucz O5 model with higher Teff in the ETC
should be used for BOP purposes.) If one color is available, it may be processed as a reddened O5 (which will always have a greater UV flux than an unreddened star of the same color). If two colors are available, then the actual spectral type and reddening can be estimated separately. The APT/BOT now clears automatically stars with only a single GSC2 magnitude, if they are safe on the unreddened O5 assumption. Any other “unknowns” must be cleared explicitly.
In some cases, the 2MASS JHK may be the only photometry available
for an otherwise “unknown” star. It is possible to estimate V and E(B-V) from those data on the assumption of a reddened O5 star, and thus determine its count rates in the ETC
. F. Martins & B. Plez, A&A, 457, 637 (2006)
, derive (J-H)0
= -0.11 for all O stars; and (V-J)0
= -0.67, (V-H)0
= -0.79 for early O types. (The K band should be avoided for BOP because of various instrumental and astrophysical complications.) M.S. Bessell & J.M. Brett, PASP, 100, 1134 (1988)
, Appendix B, give relationships between the NIR reddenings and E(B-V). These data determine the necessary parameters. Note that the ETC
also supports direct entry of observed J, H magnitudes with E(B-V).
It is not expected that all such issues will be resolved by the Phase II
deadline, but they should at least be identified and have planned resolutions by then. Another possible resolution is a change to a less sensitive SBC configuration. Any SBC targets or fields that cannot be demonstrated to be safe to a reasonable level of certainty in the judgement of the CS will not be observed. It is possible that equivalent alternative targets may be approved upon request in that case; but any observations that trigger the onboard safety mechanisms will not be replaced.
A related issue is SBC pointing specification changes after the targets
and fields have been cleared by the STScI BOP review. Any such changes must be approved by the ACS Team on the basis of a specific scientific justification and a new BOP review by the GO, which may be submitted via the CS if absolutely necessary. However, in general such requests should be avoided by ensuring that submitted SBC specifications are final, to prevent a need for multiple BOP reviews.
GOs planning SBC observations of unpredictably variable targets, such
as cataclysmic variables, are reminded of the special BOP procedures in effect for them, which are detailed in ACS ISR 2006-04
If your source passes screening, but causes the automatic flight checking
to shutter your exposures or shut down the detector voltage causing the loss of your observing time, then that lost time will not be returned to you
; it is the observer’s responsibility to ensure that observations do not exceed the bright-object limits.
Observations of planets with the SBC require particularly careful
planning due to very stringent overlight limits. In principle, Table 7.3
and Table 7.4
can be used to determine if a particular observation of a solar-system target exceeds the safety limit. In practice, the simplest and most straightforward method of checking the bright object limits for a particular observation is to use the Exposure-Time Calculator
. With a user-supplied input spectrum, or assumptions about the spectral energy distribution of the target, the ETC
will determine whether a specified observation violates any bright object limits.
Generally speaking, for small (<
~0.5 to 1 arcseconds) solar-system objects the local count rate limit is the more restrictive constraint, while for large objects (> ~1 to 2 arcseconds) the global limit is more restrictive.
As a first approximation, small solar system targets can be regarded as
point sources with a solar (G2 V) spectrum, and if the V magnitude is known, Table 7.3
and Table 7.4
can be used to estimate whether an observation with a particular SBC prism or filter is near the bright-object limits. V magnitudes for the most common solar-system targets (all planets and satellites, and the principal minor planets) can be found in the Astronomical Almanac
. This approximation should provide a conservative estimate, particularly for the local limit, because it is equivalent to assuming that all the flux from the target falls on a single pixel, which is an overestimate, and because the albedos of solar-system objects in the UV are almost always significantly less than their values in the visible part of the spectrum. A very conservative estimate of the global count rate can be obtained by estimating the peak (local) count rate assuming all the flux falls on one pixel, and then multiplying by the number of pixels subtended by the target. If these simple estimates produce numbers near the bright-object limits, more sophisticated estimates may be required to provide assurance that the object is not too bright to observe in a particular configuration.
For large solar-system targets, checking of the bright-object limits is
most conveniently done by converting the integrated V magnitude (Vo
, which can be found in the Astronomical Almanac
) to V magnitude/arcseconds2
is the area of the target in arcseconds2
. This surface brightness and the diameter of the target in arcseconds can then be input into the ETC
(choose the solar template spectrum for the spectral energy distribution) to test whether the bright-object limits are satisfied.
STScI will perform screening of all SBC exposures prior to scheduling.
Targets not established as safe for the configuration in which they are being observed will not be scheduled. Observations that pass screening but are lost in orbit due to a bright-object violation will not be rescheduled. Observers are responsible for ensuring that their observations do not violate the SBC count-rate limits.
To ensure that STScI can adequately screen observations, special
constraints are imposed on parallel observing with the SBC. In particular:
Targets that are one magnitude or more fainter than the magnitude limits
in the screening tables generally automatically pass screening. For a target that is within one magnitude of the screening limits, observers must provide a calibrated spectrum of the source at the intended observing wavelength. If such a spectrum is not available, the prospective GO must request an orbit in Phase I for a pre-qualification exposure, during which the target spectrum must be determined by observation in an allowed configuration.
Please note that if you are proposing SBC target-of-opportunity
observations, we ask you to provide an explanation in your Phase I proposal of how you will ensure that your target can be safely observed.