NIRCam Detector Overview

JWST NIRCam has ten 2K × 2K HgCdTe detectors: eight for 0.6–2.3 µm observations (0.031"/pixel) and two for 2.4–5.0 µm (0.063"/pixel).

See also: NIRCam Detector SubarraysNIRCam Detector ReadoutNIRCam Detector Readout PatternsNIRCam Detector Performance 

NIRCam employs 10 Teledyne HgCdTe H2RG detectors, each controlled by a separate SIDECAR™ ASIC1.

Each detector contains 2048 × 2048 pixels; the interior 2040 × 2040 pixels are light-sensitive photodiodes, and the outer 4-pixel wide border consists of reference pixels used to measure temperature and bias voltage drifts during exposures. These drifts are removed by the image reduction pipeline.

Eight of the detectors, manufactured with a 2.5 µm cutoff, are used in the short wavelength channel (0.6–2.3 µm). Two detectors with ~5 µm cutoffs are used in the long wavelength channel (2.4–5.0 µm). The short wavelength detectors have lower dark current (see NIRCam Detector Performance).

Each detector is referred to as a sensor chip assembly (SCA). In each NIRCam module, the 4 short wavelength detectors are arranged in a 2 × 2 focal plane array (FPA). When imaging the sky, the short wavelength pixels have twice the spatial resolution (0.031″) as the long wavelength pixels (0.063"). The field of view of each short wavelength FPA overlaps with that of the single long wavelength SCA in each module. Both wavelength channels cover approximately the same 2.2' × 2.2' area on the sky with each module, for a total 9.7 arcmin² field of view when observing with both modules.

During an integration, the detectors accumulate charge while being read out multiple times non-destructively according to readout patterns. Users may opt to either read out the full detector or smaller subarrays for faster readout times. When the integration is complete, the detectors are reset, releasing the charge.

Accumulated analog charges are converted to 16-bit digital signals with up to 65,535 data counts (analog-to-digital units, or ADU) in each pixel. The gain values are roughly 2 electrons per data count (2 e/ADU) on average, varying among the detectors as well as among pixels within each detector (see the Detector Performance article).

Figure 1. Field of view received by the 10 NIRCam detectors

Field of view received by the 10 NIRCam detectors

The short wavelength detectors are numbered 1–4 in each module (A and B), as shown in blue. The long wavelength detectors are numbered "5" in each module, as shown in red. Orientation is shown relative to the JWST field of view with the V3 axis up and V2 axis left. Note that the overlap between the long and short wavelength channels on module B improved after launch (see Figure 1 on the NIRCam field of view article).

Table 1. Detector properties

Detector propertiesShort wavelength channel
(0.6–2.3 µm)
Long wavelength channel
(2.4–5.0 µm)
Wavelength response 0.4–2.5 µm0.4–5.1 µm
Number of detectors82
Pixels (including reference)2048 × 2048 pixels2048 × 2048 pixels
Pixels (light sensitive)2040 × 2040 pixels2040 × 2040 pixels
Pixel pitch (physical size) 18 µm18 µm
Pixel scale (on sky)0.031″/pixel0.063″/pixel
Nyquist wavelength *2.0 μm4.0 μm
Field of view (each detector)64" × 64"129" × 129"
Field of view (all detectors)2 × 2.2′ × 2.2′ (with 4–5” gaps)2 × 2.2′ × 2.2′

† Filters and dichroics limit these wavelength ranges.
Distance between centers of adjacent pixels.
* PSF FWHM ~2 pixels at this wavelength; undersampled at lower wavelengths. For coronagraphy, the Nyquist wavelength is shorter.

Figure 2. NIRCam 2K × 2K HgCdTe detector from Teledyne imaging sensors

Figure 3. Focal plane array (2 × 2) of NIRCam short wavelength detectors

Four NIRCam H2RG detectors mounted into a focal plane module (FPA), including the black optical baffle that blocks light from hitting the reflective edges of the detector.

1 System for Image Digitization, Enhancement, Control, and Retrieval Application-Specific Integrated Circuit


Rieke, G. H., 2007, ARA&R, 45, 77
Infrared Detector Arrays for Astronomy

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    Updated for Cycle 2 

  • Updated pixel scale values
Originally published