7.7 IR Exposure and Readout

The general operating modes of IR detectors have been described in Chapter 5. In this section we will detail the readout modes implemented in WFC3.

7.7.1 Exposure Time

Unlike the UVIS channel, the IR channel does not have a mechanical shutter. Integration times are thus determined purely electronically, by resetting the charge on the detector, and then accumulating signal until the exposure is completed. A second major difference from the UVIS channel is that the IR detector can be read out non-destructively as the exposure accumulates, as opposed to the single destructive readout at the end of a CCD exposure.

There is a set of pre-defined accumulation and readout sequences available to IR observers, which are used to set the total exposure time as described in the next subsection.

7.7.2 MULTIACCUM Mode

In IR observing it is possible, and desirable, to sample the signal multiple times as an exposure accumulates, and the MULTIACCUM mode accomplishes this. MULTIACCUM is the only observing mode available for the IR channel.

Multiple readouts offer three major advantages. First, the multiple reads provide a way to record a signal in a pixel before it saturates, thus effectively increasing the dynamic range of the final image. Second, the multiple reads can be analyzed to isolate and remove cosmic-ray events. Third, fitting to multiple reads provides a means for reducing the net effective read noise, which is relatively high for the IR detector.

The disadvantage of multiple readouts is that they are data-intensive. The HgCdTe detector array is 1024 × 1024 pixels, which is only about 1/16 by pixel number of the 4096 × 4102 UVIS array. However, since up to 16 IR readouts are used, the total data volume of a single IR exposure approaches that of a single UVIS frame. A maximum of 32 IR full array readouts can be stored in the instrument buffer, after which the content of the buffer must be dumped to the HST Solid State Recorder (SSR). A buffer dump of 16 full array reads takes about 5.8 minutes.

MULTIACCUM readout consists of the following sequence of events:

  1. Array reset: After a fast calibration of the Analog to Digital Converters, all pixels are set to the detector bias level, with two rapid reset cycles of the entire chip.
  2. Array read: The charge in each pixel is measured and stored in the on-board computer's memory. This is done as soon as practical after the second array reset in step 1. In effect, given the short delay and the time needed to read the array, a very short-exposure image is stored in memory. This is known as the zero read.
  3. Multiple integration-read cycles: The detector integrates for a certain amount of time and then the charge in each pixel is read out. This step can be repeated up to a total of 15 times following the zero read during the exposure. All frames are individually stored in the on-board computer memory. Note that it takes a finite time (2.93 sec) to read the full array, so there is a time delay between reading the first and last pixel. Because this delay is constant for each read, it cancels out in difference images.
  4. Return to idle mode: The detector returns to idle mode, where it is continuously flushed in order to prevent charge build-up and to limit the formation of residual images.

All sequences start with the same “reset, reset, read, read” sequence, where the two reads are done as quickly as possible. This “double reset read” was originally implemented because the very first read after the reset may show an offset that does not reproduce in the following reads.

7.7.3 MULTIACCUM Timing Sequences: Full Array Apertures

There are 12 pre-defined sample sequences, optimized to cover a wide range of observing situations, available for the full-frame IR apertures. (See Section 7.7.4 for a discussion of the sample sequences available for the IR subarray apertures. The same names are used for the sample sequences, but the times are different.) The maximum number of reads (following the zero read) during an exposure is 15, which are collected as the signal ramps up. It is possible to select less than 15 reads, thus cutting short the ramp and reducing the total exposure time. However, the timing of the individual reads within any of the 12 sequences cannot be adjusted by the user. This approach has been adopted because optimal calibration of IR detectors requires a dedicated set of reference files (e.g., dark frames) for each timing pattern.

In summary, a WFC3/IR exposure is fully specified by choosing:

  • one of the 12 available pre-defined timing sequences, and
  • the total number of samples (NSAMP, which must be no more than 15), which effectively determines the total exposure time

The 11 timing sequences for the IR channel are:

  • One RAPID sequence: the detector is sampled with the shortest possible time interval between reads.
  • Six linear (SPARS) sequences: the detector is sampled with uniform time intervals between reads, a so-called “linear sample up the ramp.” (“SPARS” is a contraction of the word “sparse.”)
  • Five rapid-log-linear (STEP) sequences: the detector is initially sampled with the shortest possible time interval between reads, then uses logarithmically spaced reads to transition to a sequence of uniform samples.

All 12 of the sequences above refer to readouts of the full 1024 × 1024 detector array. See Section 7.7.4 below for the timing sequences available for subarrays. Details of the sequences are in the following paragraphs. The timings of the individual reads are given in Table 7.8.

RAPID Sequence

The RAPID sequence provides linear sampling at the fastest possible speed. For the full array, this means one frame every 2.9 s, and the entire set of 16 reads completed in less than 44 s. The RAPID mode is mainly intended for the brightest targets. Due to the overheads imposed by buffer dumps (see Chapter 10), observations in this mode done continuously would have low observing efficiency.

SPARS Sequences

The SPARS sequences use evenly spaced time intervals between reads. The six available SPARS sequences are designated SPARS5, SPARS10, SPARS25, SPARS50, SPARS100 and SPARS200, corresponding to sampling intervals of approximately 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 200 s, respectively.

The SPARS modes can be regarded as the most basic readout modes, and they are applicable to a wide range of target fluxes. They provide flexibility in integration time and are well suited to fill an orbital visibility period with several exposures.

SPARS5, introduced during cycle 23, has time steps intermediate between those of RAPID and SPARS10. It is expected to be especially useful for spatially scanned grism observations of bright stars (see Section 8.6) with subarray apertures (see Section 7.7.4).

STEP Sequences

The five available rapid-logarithmic-linear sequences are STEP25, STEP50, STEP100, STEP200, and STEP400. They begin with linear spacing (the same as the RAPID sequence), continue with logarithmic spacing up to the given number of seconds (e.g., 50 s for STEP50), and then conclude with linear spacing in increments of the given number of seconds for the remainder of the sequence.

The STEP mode is intended to provide a more uniform sampling across a wide range of stellar magnitudes, which is especially important for imaging fields containing both faint and bright targets. The faint targets require a long, linearly sampled integration, while the bright targets need to be sampled several times early in the exposure, before they saturate. Thus, the dynamic range of the final image is increased.

Figure 7.9: Example of STEP sequence with NSAMP=4. NSAMP+1 images are stored in the observer’s FITS image



Table 7.8: Sample times of 1024 × 1024 MULTIACCUM readouts in seconds. The information in this table can also be found in Table 13.4 of the Phase II Proposal Instructions.

NSAMP

RAPID
(sec)


 

 

SPARS (sec)


 

STEP (sec)


 

SPARS5

SPARS10

SPARS25

SPARS50

SPARS100

SPARS200


 

STEP25

STEP50

STEP100

STEP200

STEP400

1

2.932


 

2.932

2.932

2.932

2.932

2.932

2.932


 

2.932

2.932

2.932

2.932

2.932

2

5.865


 

7.933

12.933

27.933

52.933

102.933

202.932


 

5.865

5.865

5.865

5.865

5.865

3

8.797


 

12.934

22.934

52.933

102.933

202.933

402.932


 

8.797

8.797

8.797

8.797

8.797

4

11.729


 

17.935

32.935

77.934

152.934

302.933

602.932


 

11.729

11.729

11.729

11.729

11.729

5

14.661


 

22.935

42.936

102.934

202.934

402.934

802.933


 

24.230

24.230

24.230

24.230

24.230

6

17.594


 

27.936

52.937

127.935

252.935

502.934

1002.933


 

49.230

49.230

49.230

49.230

49.230

7

20.526


 

32.937

62.938

152.935

302.935

602.934

1202.933


 

74.231

99.231

99.231

99.231

99.231

8

23.458


 

37.938

72.939

177.936

352.935

702.935

1402.933


 

99.231

149.231

199.231

199.231

199.231

9

26.391


 

42.938

82.940

202.936

402.936

802.935

1602.933


 

124.232

199.232

299.231

399.231

399.231

10

29.323


 

47.939

92.941

227.937

452.936

902.935

1802.933


 

149.232

249.232

399.232

599.231

799.232

11

32.255


 

52.940

102.942

252.937

502.937

1002.936

2002.933


 

174.233

299.232

499.232

799.231

1199.232

12

35.187


 

57.941

112.943

277.938

552.937

1102.936

2202.933


 

199.233

349.233

599.232

999.231

1599.233

13

38.120


 

62.942

122.944

302.938

602.938

1202.936

2402.933


 

224.234

399.233

699.233

1199.231

1999.233

14

41.052


 

67.942

132.945

327.939

652.938

1302.936

2602.933


 

249.234

449.234

799.233

1399.231

2399.234

15

43.984


 

72.943

142.946

352.940

702.939

1402.937

2802.933


 

274.235

499.234

899.233

1599.231

2799.235


7.7.4 MULTIACCUM Timing Sequences: Subarray Apertures

As described in Section 7.4.4, subarrays are available in order to reduce data volume and enable short exposure times, defined in sample sequences. For a given sample sequence name, the sample times are shorter for smaller subarrays. However, only certain combinations of subarrays and sample sequences are supported by STScI. Other MULTIACCUM sequences can be used in principle but are not supported, and additional calibration observations would have to be made by the observer. The supported combinations are presented in Table 7.9. The exposure times may be found in the Phase II Proposal Instructions, Chapter 12 (Wide Field Camera 3).

(tick)

See Section 12.3.1 of the Phase II Proposal Instructions, Tables 12.6 to 12.7, for the sample times associated with each combination of sample sequence and subarray size. Note that the sample times for a given sample sequence name are shorter for smaller subarrays.


SPARS5, introduced during cycle 23, is expected to be especially useful for spatially scanned grism observations of bright stars (see Section 8.6).

Certain combinations of IR subarrays and sample sequences give rise to images containing a sudden low-level jump in the overall background level of the image. The cause of the artifact is under investigation (see Section 7.4.4).

Table 7.9: Supported subarray sample sequences.

Aperture

Sample Sequence

RAPID

SPARS5

SPARS10

SPARS25

STEP25

IRSUB64

yes

no

no

no

no

IRSUB64-FIX

yes

no

no

no

no

IRSUB128

yes

no

yes

no

no

IRSUB128-FIX

yes

no

yes

no

no

IRSUB256

yes

yes

yes

yes

no

IRSUB256-FIX

yes

yes

yes

yes

no

IRSUB512

yes

yes

no

yes

yes

IRSUB512-FIX

yes

yes

no

yes

yes