NIRISS Instrument Features and Caveats

Instrumental artifacts that may affect observation planning or the interpretation of data obtained with NIRISS is covered in this article.

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Internal reflections within the optical path of NIRISS can result in optical ghosts in NIRISS imaging and wide field slitless spectroscopy (WFSS) observations (Martel 2019). See the NIRISS Ghosts article for more information about ghosts in imaging observations, and how to identify ghosts when analyzing data. An example of ghosts observed from early inflight observations is shown in Figure 1. Dispersed ghosts are discussed in the NIRISS GR150 grisms article.

Figure 1. An example of NIRISS ghosts

Left: An example of bright stars that produce ghosts in a NIRISS image. The magenta X marks the ghost axis point (GAP), the point around which ghosts are reflected from the sources. The stars producing the ghosts are circled in cyan and the objects circled in magenta are the ghosts. The red Xs mark sources that would be expected to produce ghosts, but not are identified indicating that only certain regions in the detector are susceptible to producing ghosts. Right: A zoom-in of the image to illustrate the blobby morphology of ghosts, and the double ghosts produced in this particular filter (F150W). These images are from observation 116 in APT program 1063 with the F150W filter.

Imprint of occulting spots

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The NIRISS pick-off mirror has 4 coronagraphic occulters engraved on its surface that project circular spots with diameters of 0.58", 0.75", 1.5", and 2.0" (approximately 9, 11, 23, and 31 pixels, respectively) located about 11" from the top of the detector (Figure 2). The occulting spots were used as part of the coronagraphic mode of the tunable filter imager (Doyon et al. 2010), NIRISS’s former instrument configuration. These features leave imprints on imaging and WFSS observations, so careful planning of imaging and WFSS observations may be needed if there are particular objects of interest near that region of the detector. The MEDIUM and LARGE dither step sizes are sufficient to move a source over the smaller 2 spots but not enough to fully cover the larger 2 spots. There will be a very small region that is not covered by the LARGE 4-point dither pattern.
Figure 2. Flat field image showing occulting spots

A flat field image using data from cryovacuum 3 testing and internal lamps from flight to illustrate the 4 occulting spots across the top of the detector. This image is in the F200W filter.

Overlapping spectral orders in SOSS mode

The single object slitless spectroscopy mode produces spectra in 3 orders that cover the wavelength range from 0.6 to 2.8 µm. The 1st order covers wavelengths between 0.9 and 2.8 µm, the 2nd order covers wavelengths between 0.6 and 1.4 µm, and the 3rd order is very weak and will generally not be useful. The traces of the spectral orders overlap at wavelengths between 2.4 and 2.8 µm in the 1st order (>1.2 µm 2nd order) when using the standard GR700XD/CLEARP filter combination. Adding an exposure using the GR700XD/F277W combination to a SOSS observation can help isolate data in the 1st order between 2.4 and 2.8 µm. The spectra in this overlap region are disentangled by the code Algorithm to Treat Order ContAmination (ATOCA, Darveau-Bernier et al., in prep) in the extract_1d step of the calwebb_spec3 stage of the JWST Science Calibration Pipeline in versions 1.8 and later. Note that photometric calibration is applied after the spectral extraction step for the SOSS observing mode.

Light saber

See also: JWST Observatory Coordinate System and Field of Regard

Inflight observations revealed that light from a "susceptibility region" far away from the NIRISS field of view (2.0º < V2 < 5.0º, 12.4º < V3 < 12.8º) can scatter into the detector via a rogue path (i.e., light can enter the telescope aperture without reflecting off the primary or secondary mirror). In many cases, the scattered emission is from zodiacal light that causes a horizontal band about 25–30 pixels high across the full width of the detector, affecting 1%–2% of the detector, and is about 1% brighter than the background. If, however, there is a bright star with a near-infrared magnitude (J, H, K)  brighter than ~2 (Vega mag) in the susceptibility region, this feature becomes sharper and brighter. This light saber, an example of which is shown in Figure 3, produces a local background that is about 10% higher than the global background, but it is a factor of about 10-7 fainter than the star which causes it.

The light saber can affect both NIRISS imaging and WFSS observations. Spectra from the GR150C grism are dispersed along the light saber axis while spectra from the GR150R grism are dispersed vertically, which would increase the extent of the light saber in these exposures by another ~50–100 pixels (affecting ~5%–7% of all pixels).

The APT Aladin Viewer can be used to visualize the NIRISS susceptibility region for imaging and WFSS observations and to identify if any bright targets fall within the susceptibility region at any allowed position angle for an observation. An observer may wish to set a position angle constraint special requirement to avoid bright stars in the susceptibility region, but care must be taken to ensure such a constraint does not force an observation into the micrometeroid avoidance zone (MAZ). It is currently not recommended to constrain an observation in the MAZ to avoid the light saber.

Figure 3. An example of an image with the light saber

An example of an image where the light saber is observed. This image is through the F150W filter and is from the 4th dither position of observation 164 in APT program 1063 (jw01063164001_02201_00004_nis_cal.fits). The light saber appears when there is a bright star in a susceptibility region where light can scatter into NIRISS from a rogue path.

Anomalous spikes

Anomalous spikes are observed in bright stars in the short wavelength NIRISS filters (F090W, F115W, F140M, F150W, F158M, and F200W). These spikes are more diffuse than diffraction spikes, and come in 2 flavors (Figure 4): 11 and 5 o'clock spikes and 1 and 7 o'clock spikes. The angle of the anomalous spikes is a strong function of detector X position: θ1 has a maximum value of 25º at X = 0 and θ2 has a maximum value of -12º at X = 2048 (with θ1 defined as positive and θ2 defined as negative). The transition from the 11/5 o'clock spikes to the 1/7 o'clock spikes occurs at X ~ 1,400. The intensity of the anomalous spikes is strongest in F090W, and decreases with filter wavelength. The 11/5 o'clock spikes were also seen in ground testing (Martel 2019).

Figure 4. Examples of anomalous spikes in bright stars


Left: Schematic illustrating how angles of anomalous spikes are measured. Middle: An example of a star with 11/5 o'clock spikes. Right: An example of a star with 1/7 o'clock spikes. Real diffraction spikes are sharper and and narrower.

Stray light

Light from stars outside the NIRISS field of view can scatter off the focal plane array (FPA) baffle into the NIRISS detector and affect both imaging and WFSS observation. The region of the detector affected by the baffle is 172 pixels wide and extends from 45 to 217 pixels outside of the detector. Early in-flight observations revealed that when a star is placed between 45 to 175 pixels away from the detector, scattered light is sometimes visible at the edges of the detector (Figure 5). When planning observations, users should be aware that a bright star within ~200 pixels (~13") of the edge of the NIRISS detector could potentially cause scattered light. So far, stray light has been observed when a star of brightness K ~ 11.5 (Vega) or brighter has been within 200 pixels of the detector.

Figure 5. Examples of stray light


Left: Stray light is visible in the lower left corner of this image from a star that is offset 110 pixels off the edge of the detector. This image is from observation 4 in APT program 1095 and uses the F090W filter. The star causing the scattered light has a magnitude of K = 11.4 (Vega).
Right: Stray light is visible on the right edge of the detector from a star that is offset by 80 pixels off the edge of the detector. This image is from observation 114 in APT program 1063 and uses the F115W filter. The star causing the scattered light has a magnitude of K = 10.8 (Vega).
Streaks have also been observed in 2 programs (Figure 6). In both cases, there was a bright star with a magnitude of K ~ 12.5 offset by ~180–195 pixels from the left edge of the detector. It is likely that scattered light from these nearby stars are responsible for the streaks. Care is warranted when interpreting anomalous features in the detector to determine which may be detector artifacts and which may be astrophysical in origin.
Figure 6. Examples of streaks


Examples of streaks (circled in red) in NIRISS images, tentatively linked to bright stars ~180–195 pixels offset from the left edge of the detector.
Left: This image is from observation 111 in APT program 1063 and is with the F200W filter.
RIght: This image actually shows 2 streaks, which are coincident with 2 stars off the left edge of the detector. The light saber and a diffraction spike from a star outside the NIRISS field of view are also visible. This image is from observation 100 in APT program 1086 and is with the F150W filter.

Diffraction spikes from stars outside the field of view

Sufficiently bright stars outside of the NIRISS field of view can have diffraction spikes that impinge on the detector. An example of this is shown in Figure 7, where the likely stars causing these spikes have magnitudes of J ~ 4.5 (Vega). Users can consider imposing a position angle constraint when planning observations, should there be bright stars nearby, depending on whether low background across the whole detector is crucial for the science goals of an observing program.

Figure 7. Example of diffraction spikes from stars outside the NIRISS field of view


An image where diffraction spikes from 2 stars outside of the NIRISS field of view fall onto the detector. The stars causing these out-of-field diffraction spikes have magnitudes J ~ 4.5 (Vega). This image is from observation 181 in APT program 1063.


NIRISS imaging ghost identification tool


Doyon, R., Hutchings, J., Rowlands, N., et al. 2010, SPIE, 7331, 7331E
The JWST tunable filter imager (TFI) 

Martel, A. 2019 JWST-STScI-004877
The Ghosts of NIRISS: Imaging

Latest updates
    Updated the section describing the "light saber" scattered light feature to point to NIRISS Generic Recommended Strategies article for advice on how to check whether a WFSS or imaging observation might be affected by this feature.
Originally published