At launch in 1997, the median dark rate (excluding hot pixels) for the STIS CCD was about 0.0015 e−
/s. The on-orbit environment causes radiation damage which, over time, increases both the dark current and the number of hot pixels. The CCD is annealed once every four weeks by turning off the thermo-electric cooler (TEC) which allows the CCD to warm from its usual operating temperature near −
83° C to approximately +5° C. While this slows the effects of radiation damage it does not eliminate it. By the time that the STIS Side-1 electronics failed in May 2001, the median dark rate had increased to about 0.004 e−
The combination of radiation damage and the resulting loss of charge transfer efficiency (Section 7.3.7
), also results in a dark current that is no longer distributed uniformly over the detector. The effective dark current is much lower near the top of the detector, close to the readout register. This provides another reason to utilize the E1 aperture positions when observing faint objects (see “Mitigation of CTE Loss for Long-Slit Spectroscopy”
). The trend for the dark current both at the center of the detector and near the top of the chip at the E1 aperture positions is shown in Figure 7.8
. In this figure, all measured dark values have been scaled to a CCD housing temperature of 22° C, which is typical of values observed during September 2009. We expect that the CCD dark current will continue to increase with time and note that the scatter in the dark current values have increased when compared to the scatter in dark current values for darks taken prior to SM4. For use in the STIS ETC
for Cycle 21, we have adopted a dark current of 0.0165 e−
/s; this value is a compromise between the values expected at the detector center and near the E1 position during mid-2014.
There are no hard bright object limits to worry about for CCD observations, because the CCD cannot be damaged by observations of bright sources. However, the CCD pixels do saturate at high accumulated count levels, due to the finite depth of the CCD full well. The CCD saturates at ~144,000 e_
/pix in most of the effective area of the chip; however, over the outermost (serial=x) portion the CCD saturates at 120,000 e_
/pix. The variation of the CCD full well over the chip occurs because of nonuniformity in the process of boron implantation, which creates the potential wells in this type of CCD. Accumulations up to the full well limit can be observed only in the CCDGAIN=4
setting, as the gain amplifier already saturates at ~33,000 e_
/pix in the CCDGAIN=1
setting (see Section 7.2.10
Saturation imposes a limit on the product of the count rate and the integration time. Keep the total counts in the pixels of interest
below the saturation level, either by keeping the exposure time short enough that the limit is not violated in any single integration or by choosing a more appropriate configuration. You can allow saturation to occur in regions of the image over which you do not wish to extract information (e.g., you can allow a star or single emission line to saturate if you are interested in other features). Remember, however, that once the CCD well is over full, charge will bleed along the columns of the CCD so that neighboring pixels (along the slit for spectroscopic observations) will also be affected. Saturation cannot
be corrected in post-observation data processing.
An interesting exception to this is described in Gilliland, Goudfrooij & Kimble, 1999, PASP
, 1009. For CCDGAIN=4
the response remains linear up to, and even far beyond saturation if one integrates over the pixels receiving the charge bleed. Because the bleeding is perpendicular to the dispersion direction, for point sources such saturation does not compromise spectral purity. Signal to noise values of ~10,000 have been demonstrated for saturated data (see STIS ISR 1999-05
for a time series application and Bohlin & Gilliland, 2004, AJ 127
, 3508 for a measurement of Vega’s absolute flux).
In Section 6.2
, we explained how to determine the peak counts/s/pix expected for your observation. In Chapter 13
for each spectroscopic mode and in Chapter 14
for each imaging mode, we provide plots of exposure time to fill the CCD well versus source flux for each STIS configuration. Lastly, STIS ETCs
are available on the STScI STIS Web site
. Use one of these sources to ensure that your observations will not saturate sources of interest.
All CCD exposures are affected by cosmic rays. The rate of cosmic ray hits in orbit is very high compared to ground-based observations. The current rate at which pixels are affected by cosmic ray hits is 30.0 (±
3.7) pixels per second for the STIS CCD. To allow removal of cosmic rays in post-observation data processing we recommend that whenever possible, given signal-to-noise constraints, you take two or more exposures in any given CCD configuration (see also Section 11.2.2
). The greater the number of independent exposures, the more robust is the removal of cosmic rays and for very long integrations it is convenient to split the exposure into more than two separate images to avoid coincident cosmic ray hits. As an example, for two 1200 second exposures, about 1250 CCD pixels will be hit in both images and will therefore be unrecoverable. Moreover, since cosmic ray hits typically affect ~5 pixels per event, these pixels will not be independently placed, but rather will frequently be adjacent to other unrecoverable pixels. In general, we recommend that individual exposures should not exceed ~1000 seconds duration to avoid excessive amounts of uncorrectable cosmic rays in the images. However, observers must balance the benefit of removing cosmic rays against the loss in signal-to-noise that results from the splitting of exposures when in the read noise-limited regime.
In observations of faint sources, particularly for dispersed light exposures, the intrinsic count rates can be very low. The exposure time needed to reach a break-even between the read-out noise and the Poisson noise per pixel associated with the minimal sky background is ~15 minutes for imaging in 50CCD
mode, and ~36 minutes for slitless spectroscopy with G750L. With a dark current of 0.009 e−
/s it takes 35 minutes of integration for the Poisson statistics on the detector background to equal the read noise. Therefore, repeated short exposures of faint sources can significantly increase the total noise from added readouts. Selecting the correct number and length of repeated integrations requires a consideration of the trade-off between increased read noise and more robust cosmic ray elimination. The STIS Exposure Time Calculators
(ETC), or the S/N plots in Chapter 13
and Chapter 14
, can help you determine whether your observations are in the read noise dominated regime.
Analysis of on-orbit data has shown that the annealing process is successful in slowing the growth rate of transient hot pixels (hotter than 0.1 e_
/s/pix) each month. Apart from the transient hot pixels, there is a substantial number of hot pixels that stay persistently hot after anneals. In 2012, ~5% of the pixels of the STIS CCD were persistently hot. The total number of hot (>0.1 e_
/s/pix) pixels is ~50,000 after an anneal, as of June 2012 (see Figure 7.9
). The different points in Figure 7.9
represent pixels with dark current above each listed threshold. Note the increase in hot pixels with time. The break in the trend near year 2001 reflects the switch to the STIS Side-2 electronics. In this figure, Side-2 darks were scaled to a housing temperature of 18° C, which corresponds to a detector temperature lower than the −
83° C set point that was used when the Side-1 electronics were functional. The large scatter seen in data points just before the start of 2010 is due to the fact that STIS had been turned off and on several times during SMOV4. A detailed description of the variation in hot pixel numbers since launch can be found in STIS ISR 1998-06
While post-pipeline calibration using appropriate STIS reference superdarks allows one to subtract most hot pixels correctly (to within the accuracy set by Poisson statistics), the best way to eliminate all hot pixels is by dithering
(making pixel-scale positional offsets between individual exposures). Dithering as a method of data taking is described in detail in Chapter 11
. An HST handbook on dither strategies and advantages, together with example data is available on-line at:
Analysis of CCD images taken during ground calibration and in Cycle 7 has revealed low-level changes in the bias pattern (at the tenths of a DN level) and a low-level amplifier nonlinearity. This non-linearity (“amplifier ringing”) was uncovered during the analysis of the overscan region on flat-field images (reported in STIS ISR 1997-09
). The bias value of a given row in the serial overscan region of flat-field images is depressed
with respect to the nominal bias value by an amount proportional to the mean signal in that row. However, the small proportionality factors and low DN levels at which the nonlinearity occurs render the problem negligible for most STIS scientific applications. Instances of data that may be slightly affected by this problem (at the <1% level) are aperture photometry of faint sources (in imaging mode), especially in the case of a crowded region with nearby bright sources that would cause a local depression of the bias value, and photometry of diffuse extended objects that cover a large number of pixels. The brightest hot pixels (see Section 7.3.5
) also cause a measurable local depression in the bias value, but their effect is corrected by using the appropriate superdark reference file (or daily dark file) during CCD calibration.
It should be noted at the outset that the effect of CTE loss has not, as yet, been incorporated into the STIS ETCs
. Thus, should you believe the CTE losses described herein may impact your spectroscopic or imaging observing program, you will need to provide longer exposure times in your Cycle 21 Phase II proposal to compensate for the anticipated losses1
. In particular, Cycle 21 observers using the STIS CCD to observe faint targets (especially in spectroscopic mode) producing less than a few hundred electrons above a low background, are advised to adjust their exposure times appropriately (within the restrictions of their allocated number of HST orbits). CTE effects can be estimated using an iraf script available at:
Analysis of a comprehensive calibration program has allowed us to derive a
formula to correct spectroscopic observations of point sources for the parallel-register Charge Transfer Inefficiency (CTI = 1-CTE). This correction has been implemented in the standard calibration pipeline. For spectra at the standard reference position at the CCD center, CTE losses as big as 20% are corrected to within 1% at high signal levels, and to within ~1.5% at low signal levels of ~100 electrons. Further information on CTE loss in spectroscopic mode, including the CTI correction formula, can be found in STIS ISR 2006-03
. The correlation of fractional signal loss and the shift of the centroid of the spectrum is demonstrated in STIS ISR 2006-01
. For the CCD imaging mode, no correction is available at present in the pipeline, and we refer the reader to Goudfrooij and Kimble’s 2002 HST Calibration Workshop article
for the parametrization of the CTE loss and Goudfrooij et al., PASP
, 1455, 2006.
depicts the amount of CTE loss suffered as a function of source signal and background level, for spectra taken at epoch 2011.25 with the target at the center of the detector (solid lines) and at the E1 aperture position (dashed lines). Note that the CTE loss can be significant. A typical spectrum with a signal of about 150 e-
/pix along the dispersion direction (extracted over the spatial extent of the PSF) and a background level of 5 e-
/pix (appropriate for a 1000 second exposure in G430L mode) is expected to experience a CTE loss of ~34% at epoch 2011.25 when located in the center of the CCD, and a loss of ~10% when placed at the E1 aperture position (discussed below), which is much closer to the readout amplifier. For a background of 1 e-
/pix (e.g., a 200 second exposure), a spectrum with the same source signal level would suffer a CTE loss of ~36% if placed at the center of the detector, and ~11% at the E1 aperture position. This emphasizes the need to take CTE losses into account when estimating exposure times needed to accomplish your science goals.
The solid lines are for targets placed at the center of the detector, and the dashed lines are for
targets placed at the E1 aperture position. The colors black, red, and blue indicate a background of 1, 5, and 15 electrons per pixel, respectively. The CTI is expressed as the fraction of charge lost outside the default signal extraction box of 7 pixels perpendicular to the dispersion. Note the CTI-decreasing effect of added background, which argues for an observing strategy involving long exposure times.
Our discussion thus far has focused on the loss of flux due to charge-transfer
inefficiencies, but another effect is also important: trails from cosmic rays and hot pixels that lie between the target and the read-out amplifier (down-stream trails) add noise to the target’s spectrum or image. To explore the effects of CTE trails on faint spectra, consider the pair of faint (V=18) supernovae spectra (program 11721, PI: R. Ellis) plotted in Figure 7.11
. Both were observed in late 2009 with grating G430L for a total of 2300 seconds using CR-SPLIT = 3, but one was placed at the center of the CCD (Y~512; red curve), while the other was placed at the E1 position (Y~900; black curve), closer to the read-out amplifier (Y=1024). The spikes in both spectra are down-stream CTE trails. Though the two exposures were obtained under similar conditions, the red spectrum shows many more trails than does the black. These faint CTE trails represent an important source of noise that is not included in the ETC. For more information on this effect, see STIS ISR 2011-02.
For the observer, a few strategies for minimizing the effect of CTE loss should be
noted. First of all, one should maximize the exposure time whenever possible in order to increase the object counts and the sky background per exposure, both of which reduce CTE loss. Users who are thinking about dithering and shortening their exposure times (e.g., to allow for more dither positions) may want to take this into account. Furthermore, to reduce the number of charge transfers and the consequent loss of signal as illustrated above, observers using the CCD for long-slit spectroscopy of sources having a spatial extent of less than about 3
arcseconds are urged to use the pseudo-apertures located near row 900 of the CCD (the 52X*E1
apertures; see Section 7.3.8
Decreasing charge transfer efficiency in the STIS CCD has a detrimental effect on
faint spectra acquired at the default location at the center of the chip. For sources with fluxes less than ~1 ×
/s/Å, less than ~100 electrons are accumulated per pixel in exposure times of 1000 seconds or less. (This is the longest integration time we recommend due to the deleterious impact of multiple cosmic rays in a CR-SPLIT
at longer integration times.) At signal levels of 50 - 100 electrons, 25% or more of the charge can be lost during readout due to charge-transfer inefficiencies. Many STIS science programs have fluxes in this range. For spectra of point sources and compact objects such as galactic nuclei, the full length of the slit is not needed. A target location closer to the read-out amplifier near the end of the slit can decrease the charge lost during parallel transfers by a factor of ~4. One could achieve this offset through the use of offset targets or appropriate POS-TARG
entries on the Phase II proposal, but these methods are a bit cumbersome and can be prone to error.
Therefore, for first-order spectra we have defined a set of E1 pseudo-apertures that
use the same physical long slits available for STIS CCD observations, but have their default target placement near row 900, ~5 arcseconds from the top of the STIS CCD. This is schematically illustrated in Figure 7.12
. Observers can use these aperture names to place their targets at this location in a rather transparent fashion.
The E1 aperture names and the approximate Y location of the resulting spectra are
given in Table 7.5
. Use of the E1 aperture name eliminates the need to specify an offset for the ACQ/PEAK
and a POS-TARG.
These apertures are also recognized by the calibration pipeline software, so spectra are extracted from the correct location using appropriate wavelength solutions, spectral traces, and background regions. For optimum throughput when using these apertures, we recommend using an ACQ/PEAK
exposure to center the target in the aperture when using aperture 52X0.1E1
. While use of these apertures will ameliorate CTE losses, we caution observers to carefully assess the potential impact on their science programs due to the decreased spatial coverage and the relative locations of the bars on the slit.
In the optical, each photon generates a single electron. However, in the NUV,
shortward of ~3200 Å there is a finite probability of creating more than one electron per UV photon (see Christensen, O., J. App. Phys
, 689, 1976). Users will need to take this into account when calculating signal-to-noise ratios and exposure times for the G230LB
gratings, as described in “Special Case: Spectroscopic CCD Observations at λ < 2500 Å”
Initial laboratory testing of STIS CCDs showed that excessive illumination by UV
light can cause an elevation in residual dark current, due to a surface chemistry effect. However, the actual STIS flight CCD was tested for this effect during ground calibration by the STIS IDT and the effect was found to be much less than previously suspected; this effect is now a concern only
for clear (50CCD)
imaging of extremely UV-bright targets
. Observations of fields with UV-bright objects should be dithered (i.e., positional offsets applied between readouts) to ensure that the UV tail from bright sources does not cause a residual elevation of the dark current for subsequent science observations. It is also recommended to use the longpass-filtered aperture, F28X50LP
, rather than the 50CCD
clear aperture, during target acquisitions (see also Section 8.2.3
) when possible. The specific results of the ground testing on the effect of UV overillumination are summarized in Table 7.6
. Note that at launch in 1997 the median STIS CCD dark current was about 0.0015 counts/pix/s.