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Hubble Space Telescope
NICMOS Polarizers

NICMOS contains optics which enable polarimetric imaging with high spatial resolution and high sensitivity to linearly polarized light from 0.8 to 2.1 microns. The filter wheels of NIC1 and NIC2 each contain three polarizing filters (sandwiched with band-pass filters) with unique polarizing efficiencies and position angle offsets. The design specified that the position angle of the primary axis of each polarizer (as projected onto the detector) be offset by 120 o from its neighbor, and that the polarizers have identical efficiencies. While this clean concept was not strictly achieved in NICMOS, the reduction techniques described in the HST Data Handbook permit accurate polarimetry using both cameras over their full fields of view. A description on NICMOS polarimetry can also be found in Hines, Schmidt, and Schneider (2000).

The spectral coverage is fixed for each camera, and the polarizers cannot be crossed with other optical elements. For NIC1 the polarizers cover the wavelength range 0.8 to 1.3 microns (short wavelength), and for NIC2 the coverage is 1.9 to 2.1 microns (long wavelength). Observations in all three polarizers will provide the mechanism for calculating the degree of polarization and position angle at each pixel. To properly reduce polarimetry data obtained with NICMOS, a new algorithm different from that needed for ideal polarizers has been developed. Combined with calibration measurements of polarized and unpolarized stars, this algorithm enables accurate imaging polarimetry to <=1% (in percentage polarization) over the entire field of view in both cameras.