NIRCam Time-Series Imaging Target Acquisition

JWST NIRCam target acquisition (TA) positions the source with subpixel accuracy on a specific part of the detector. 

See also: NIRCam Target Acquisition, NIRCam Time-Series Imaging

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Observations in NIRCam’s time-series imaging mode should normally include a target acquisition (TA) to precisely place the target at specific points on the detector. Precise positioning is required in order to achieve the highest possible calibration stability and enable enhanced flat field determination. For applications requiring precision only at the 1% level, and/or short observations where the TA would significantly increase the time to acquire the data, TA may not be necessary. However, for very high precision (< 1% photometric stability) science needs, TA is highly recommended.

Time-series imaging uses one SW detector and the LW detector in module B. In addition to the FULLP array, users can select the point source apertures, associated to subarrays located outer top corner of module B: SUB64P, SUB160P, or SUB400P (Figure 1). These subarray locations were selected because they are relatively free of bad pixels. (They are also available in the NIRCam imaging mode.) The TA subarray is offset from the science subarrays to avoid saturating the pixels used for the science exposures.

The generic aspects of NIRCam TA are described in the NIRCam Target Acquisition article.

The unique aspects of TA for NIRCam time series are:

  • The TA subarray is 32 × 32 pixels in size and is on the long wavelength detector on module B.
  • Users may select either the F335M or F405N filter for TA.
    • Using F405N allows acquisition of targets approximately 2.5 magnitudes brighter than F335M, depending on the spectrum of the target
  • After the onboard TA process completes, a slew moves the target from the center of the TA subarray to one of the 2 science field points indicated by yellow stars in Figure 1, as described above.

Figure 1. Target acquisition for time-series imaging

Target acquisition is performed with a 32 × 32 pixel subarray (yellow square) on the LW module B detector, near the point source subarrays. Target acquisition centers the target on the TA subarray, followed by a telescope slew to the subarray science pointing (yellow star at upper right) or the full-array pointing (FULLP, yellow star at lower left). For simplicity, only the SW subarrays are shown here, as is the boundary of the full LW detector. The SW subarrays determine the effective 2-wavelength FOV due to the ~2x smaller pixel scale in that channel. For information on the location of the LW subarrays, see the NIRCam Detector Subarrays article.

Target acquisition saturation and sensitivity limits

See also: NIRCam Bright Source Limits

The time-series TA subarray frame time is 0.015 s. It is recommended that users choose a TA exposure time that achieves a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of >30, which enables a centroid accuracy of <0.15 pixel. Any readout pattern is available for TA, with Ngroups = 3, 5, 9, 17, 33, or 65. Approximate F335M and F405N saturation and sensitivity limits for NIRCam grism time series, and time-series TA, are summarized below. Limits are for a G2V star and are given in Vega magnitudes. Users should use the Exposure Time Calculator (ETC) to estimate appropriate TA integration times for their targets.

  • Bright limit:
    • Readout pattern = RAPID, Ngroups = 3 (0.06 s integration)
      • mK = 7.0 (using F335M)
      • mK = 3.6 (using F405N)
  • Faint limit:
    • Readout pattern = DEEP8, Ngroups = 65 (19.3 s integration)
      • mK = 19.0 (using F335M)
      • mK = 15.9 (using F405N)

The bright limit for TA through the F405N filter is approximately 3.5–4.0 magnitudes brighter, depending on the spectrum of the target. The figures and discussion below are intended to help observers determine whether to accept some saturation in their TA images acquired using F335M, or to switch to the F405N filter in order to achieve higher TA accuracy at the expense of longer TA integration time.

When the TA integration saturates the accuracy of the onboard centroiding algorithm is degraded. Modeling has been performed to characterize the effects of saturation, and the results are summarized below. The immediate effect of saturation is that the core of the observed PSF appears dark in the image used by the target location algorithm, as seen in Figure 2. The modeling indicates that centroiding accuracy degrades gradually as saturation increases, as summarized in Figure 3.

Figure 2. TA images

These TA images were produced from sources with K band magnitudes of 3.33 to 7.33. Pixels that saturate prior to or during the second group used to create the TA image will contain no signal (modulo noise) and appear dark in the images. In this case, no more signal can accumulate between the second and third groups, leading to a group 3 and group 2 difference close to zero. This value then propagates into the final TA image. The blue box to the lower right shows the 9 × 9 pixel box used in the centroid calculations.

Figure 3 shows the centroiding accuracy of the target location algorithm versus the K band Vega Magnitude of a G2V source. These calculations were performed using simulated point sources located on a grid of subpixel locations and with several Poisson noise realizations at each location. The effect of slight offsets of the target from the nominal science field point on data quality is unknown, but may matter in cases where multiple transit observations must be combined to achieve the desired SNR.

Figure 3. Centroiding error versus source brightness

Accuracy of the target location algorithm results for NIRCam time-series and grism time-series observations versus the K band Vega magnitude of a G2V source. The accuracy is calculated for a grid of subpixel locations and Poisson noise realizations. Individual results are shown as gray points. Red points and error bars show the mean and standard deviation over all pixel phases and noise realizations at each magnitude.

Figure 4 shows the centroiding accuracy versus the number of fully saturated pixels in the scene. These are pixels that are saturated in all three of the groups used to create the TA image. The ETC also uses this definition when reporting the number of pixels that have reached "full saturation."

Figure 4. Centroiding error versus the number of fully saturated pixels.

The number of pixels on the X axis is equivalent to the number of fully saturated pixels reported by the ETC. The red x's and error bars show the mean and standard deviation of the centroiding error.

Figure 5 shows the centroiding accuracy plotted against the number of pixels that saturate in groups 2 or 3 of the three groups used to produce the TA image. This is equivalent to the number of "partially saturated" pixels reported by the ETC.

Figure 5. Centroiding error versus the number of partially saturated pixels.

The number of pixels on the X axis is equivalent to the number of partially saturated pixels reported by the ETC. The red x's and error bars show the mean and standard deviation of the centroiding error. Note that fully saturated pixels begin to occur at limits described on the ETC NIRCam Target Acquisition article.

Notable updates

  • Removed reference to shift in SUB64P aperture during commissioning

    TA is no longer required to put targets in SUB64P subarray overlap.
    Updated Figure 1 to reflect changes to subarrays made during commissioning.
    Updated Figure 1 to show FULLP reference position.
Originally published