NIRCam Time-Series Imaging Target Acquisition

JWST NIRCam Target Acquisition (TA) positions the source with sub-pixel accuracy on a specific part of the detector. A TA is required for all NIRCam Time-Series observations.

Main article: NIRCam Target Acquisition
See also: NIRCam Time-Series Imaging

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 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. Observers using the SUB64P subarrays, necessary to avoid saturation on the very brightest targets, should include a TA to guarantee that their target is positioned within the overlap region between the short wavelength (SW) and long wavelength (LW) fields of view.

Time-series imaging uses one SW detector and the LW detector in module B. In addition to the FULL 1 array, users can select the point source subarrays located at the upper right of the module: SUB64P, SUB160P, or SUB400P (Figure 1). These subarray locations were selected to minimize the number of bad pixels on the detectors and to include reference pixels along two edges of the subarrays. 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 those 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 on-board TA process completes, a slew moves the target from the center of the TA subarray to one of the 4 science field points indicated 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 one of the yellow stars in the selected subarray for the science exposures. For simplicity, only the SW subarrays are shown here, as is the boundary of the full LW detector. The SW subarrays determine the effective 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.
Bold italics style indicates words that are also parameters or buttons in software tools (like the APT and ETC). Similarly, a bold style represents menu items and panels.



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 (0.45 sec integration)
      • mK = 7.1 (using F335M)
      • mK = 3.8 (using F405N)
  • Faint limit:
    • Readout pattern = DEEP8, NGroups=65 (19.3 sec integration)
      • mK = 18.8 (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 on-board 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 3 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.




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