Ultra Bright Light Sources for Astronomy Applications





Direct measurement of the intra-pixel response function of the Kepler Space Telescope’s CCDs

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Space missions designed for high precision photometric monitoring of stars often under-sample the point-spread function, with much of the light landing within a single pixel. Missions like MOST, Kepler, BRITE, and TESS, do this to avoid uncertainties due to pixel-to-pixel response nonuniformity. This approach has worked remarkably well. However, individual pixels also exhibit response nonuniformity. Typically, pixels are most sensitive near their centers and less sensitive near the edges, with a difference in response of as much as 50%. The exact shape of this fall-off, and its dependence on the wavelength of light, is the intra-pixel response function (IPRF). A direct measurement of the IPRF can be used to improve the photometric uncertainties, leading to improved photometry and astrometry of under-sampled systems. Using the spot-scan technique, we measured the IPRF of a flight spare e2v CCD90 imaging sensor, which is used in the Kepler focal plane. Our spot scanner generates spots with a full-width at half-maximum of .5 microns across the range of 400 nm - 900 nm. We find that Kepler’s CCD shows similar IPRF behavior to other back-illuminated devices, with a decrease in responsivity near the edges of a pixel by ∼50%. The IPRF also depends on wavelength, exhibiting a large amount of diffusion at shorter wavelengths and becoming much more defined by the gate structure in the near-IR. This method can also be used to measure the IPRF of the CCDs used for TESS, which borrows much from the Kepler mission.


Development of TCal: a mobile spectrophotometric calibration unit for astronomical imaging systems

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We describe TCal, a mobile spectrophotometric calibration system that will be used to characterize the throughput as a function of wavelength of imaging systems at observatories around the world. TCal measurements will enhance the science return from follow-up observations of imaging surveys such as LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope) and DES (Dark Energy Survey) by placing all tested imaging systems on a common photometric baseline. TCal uses a 1 nm bandpass tunable light source to measure the instrumental response function of imaging systems from 300 nm to 1100 nm, including the telescope, optics, filters, windows, and the detector. The system is comprised of a monochromator-based light source illuminating a dome flat field screen monitored by calibrated photodiodes, which allows determination of the telescope throughput as a function of wavelength. This calibration will be performed at 1-8m telescopes that expect to devote time towards survey follow-up. Performing the calibration on these telescopes will reduce systematic errors due to small differences in bandpass, making follow-up efforts more precise and accurate.


VIRUS: status and performance of the massively-replicated fiber integral field spectrograph for the upgraded Hobby-Eberly Telescope

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The Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph (VIRUS) consists of 156 identical spectrographs (arrayed as 78 pairs, each with a pair of spectrographs) fed by 35,000 fibers, each 1.5 arcsec diameter, at the focus of the upgraded 10 m Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET). VIRUS has a fixed bandpass of 350-550 nm and resolving power R~750. The fibers are grouped into 78 integral field units, each with 448 fibers and 20 m average length. VIRUS is the first example of large-scale replication applied to optical astronomy and is capable of surveying large areas of sky, spectrally. The VIRUS concept offers significant savings of engineering effort and cost when compared to traditional instruments. The main motivator for VIRUS is to map the evolution of dark energy for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), using 0.8M Lyman-alpha emitting galaxies as tracers. The VIRUS array has been undergoing staged deployment starting in late 2015. Currently, more than half of the array has been populated and the HETDEX survey started in 2017 December. It will provide a powerful new facility instrument for the HET, well suited to the survey niche of the telescope, and will open up large spectroscopic surveys of the emission line universe for the first time. We will review the current state of production, lessons learned in sustaining volume production, characterization, deployment, and commissioning of this massive instrument.