- SOFIA Overview
- Proposing & Observing
- Meetings and Events
Download the PDF Version
- 4.1 Specifications
Return to the Table of Contents for this section at any time by selecting Return to Table of Contents. Users may also navigate through the entire Observer's Handbook by using the complete Table of Contents menu to the right.
4.1.1 Instrument Overview
The Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) is a dual-channel mid-infrared camera and spectrograph sensitive from 5–40 μm. Each channel consists of a 256x256 pixel array that yields a 3.4x3.2 arcmin instantaneous field-of-view with 0.768 arcsec pixels, after distortion correction. The Short Wavelength Channel (SWC) uses a Si:As blocked-impurity band (BIB) array optimized for λ < 25 μm, while the Long Wavelength Channel's (LWC) Si:Sb BIB array is optmized for λ > 25 μm. Observations can be made through either of the two channels individually or, by use of a dichroic mirror, with both channels simultaneously across most of the range. Spectroscopy is also possible using a suite of six grisms, which provide coverage from 5–40 μm with a low spectral resolution of R = λ/Δλ ~ 200. The instrument has space for cross dispersing grisms allowing for high resolution cross-dispersed (XD) spectroscopy at R ~ 800–1200 in the 5–14 μm range. The availability of the XD configuration during a given cycle is published in the Call-for-Proposals.
The FORCAST instrument is composed of two cryogenically cooled cameras of functionally identical design. A schematic of the instrument layout is provided in Figure 4-1 below. Light from the SOFIA telescope enters the dewar through a 7.6 cm (3.0 in) caesium iodide (CsI) window and cold stop and is focused at the field stop, where a six position aperture wheel is located. The wheel holds the imaging aperture, the slits used for spectroscopy, and a collection of field masks for instrument characterization. The light then passes to the collimator mirror (an off-axis hyperboloid) before striking the first fold mirror, which redirects the light into the LHe-cooled portion of the cryostat.
The incoming beam then reaches a four-position slide, which includes an open position, a mirror, and two dichroics, one for normal use and the other as a spare. The open position passes the beam to a second fold mirror, which sends the beam to the LWC, while the mirror redirects the light to the SWC. The magnesium oxide (MgO) dichroic reflects light below 26 μm to the SWC and passes light from 26–40 μm to the LWC. The light then passes through a Lyot stop at which are located two filter wheels of six positions each, allowing combinations of up to 10 separate filters and grisms per channel. Well characterized, off-the-shelf filters can be used, since the filter wheel apertures have a standard 25 mm diameter (see Section 18.104.22.168).
Finally, the incoming beam enters the camera block and passes through the camera optics. These two-element catoptric systems are composed of an off-axis hyperboloid mirror and an off-axis ellipsoid mirror that focuses the light on the focal plane array. Also included is an insertable pupil viewer that images the Lyot stop on the arrays to facilitate alignment of the collimator mirror with the telescope optical axis and to allow characterization of the emissivity of both the sky and telescope.
22.214.171.124 Camera Performance
The SWC and LWC arrays were selected to optimize performance across the 5–40 μm bandpass. Both arrays have a quantum efficiency (QE) greater than 25% over most of their spectral range. The cameras can be operated with variable frame rates and in either high or low capacitance modes (which are characterized by well depths of 1.8x107 and 1.9x106 e- respectively), depending upon the sky background and source brightness.
The best measured image quality (IQ) obtained by FORCAST on SOFIA is in the 7–11 μm range with a FWHM PSF (point spread function) of ~2.7 arcsec. This measured image quality in-flight is limited by telescope jitter arising from vibrations of the telescope itself (e.g., due to wind loading in the cavity), turbulence, and tracking accuracy. Presented in Figure 4-2 is a sample of FWHM IQ measurements made during a single observatory characterization flight during the winter of 2010 in comparison to the theoretical diffraction limit calculated for a 2.5 m primary with a 14% central obstruction combined with the FWHM telescope jitter, here assumed to be 2.08 arcsec (1.25 arcsec rms).
126.96.36.199 Filter Suite
Imaging with FORCAST can be performed in either a single channel or in both the SWC and LWC channels simultaneously (dual channel configuration). In a single channel configuration, any one of the available filters may be used. In the dual channel configuration, a dichroic is used to split the incoming beam, directing it to both the SWC and LWC.
The dichroic reduces the overall throughput. Table 4-1 shows the throughput with the dichroic in (dual channel configuration) relative to that for the single channel configuration. The degradation of the system throughput by the dichroic can have a significant effect on the instrument sensitivities as discussed in more detail in Section 188.8.131.52. In addition, since there are more short wavelength filters available than slots in the SWC filter wheels, some short wave filters will be housed in the LWC. The final filter wheel configuration for each observing cycle will be driven by proposal pressure. Depending on the final filter configuration, it is possible that not all LWC filters will be able to be used in the dual channel configuration due to the cutoff in the dichroic transmission at short wavelengths.
The filters in the SWC are standard Optical Coating Laboratory, Inc. (OCLI) thin-film interference filters. These filters are stacked with blocking filters to prevent light leaks. The only exception is the 25.4 μm (FOR_F253) University of Reading filter, which is a custom double half-wave (three mesh) scattering filter stacked with a diamond scattering blocking filter to provide blue-light rejection. The 33.6 (FOR_F336), 34.7 (FOR_F347), and 37.1 μm (FOR_F371) filters in the LWC are LakeShore custom double half-wave (three mesh) scattering filters. The 31.5 μm filter is a Fabry-Perot Interferometer filter.
The central wavelengths, bandwidths, and the typical FWHM IQ in each of the filters are given in Table 4-2 below. The first column under the Imaging FWHM column (single channel) heading presents the best measured FWHM IQ in single channel configuration. These values are representative of the IQ observed since Cycle 3. The second column (dual channel) contains the average measured FWHM IQ in dual channel configuration. Not all of the filters have measured IQ values, but we expect that they will be comparable to those with measured values that are of similar λeff. Figure 4-3 shows the filter transmission profiles (normalized to their peak transmission) over-plotted on an ATRAN model of the atmospheric transmission. The filter transmission curves (text tables) are available as a zip file or individually from Table 4-2.
Due to the limited number of slots available in the filter wheels, not all of the filters listed in Table 4-2 are available at any one time. For Cycle 8, there will be a nominal filter set (indicated by bold italic type in Table 4-2). Other filters can be requesed for use, but a convincing scientific argument must be made to justify swapping out the existing filters. A filter swap during the cycle may be permitted dependent upon proposal pressure; more details are available in the Call for Proposals.
|Channel||Filter||λeff (μm)||Δλ (μm)||Imaging FWHM (arcsec)||Profiles|
|Single Channel||Dual Channel|
a Entires in blue are expected to be part of the default filter set for Cycle 8.
bIQ values for some filters have not been measured at this time, but it is expected that they will be similar to those of similar λeff with measured values.
184.108.40.206 Imaging Sensitivities
The FORCAST imaging sensitivities for a continuum point source for each filter are presented in Table 4-3 and Figure 4-4. The Minimum Detectable Continuum Flux (MDCF; 80% enclosed energy) in mJy needed to obtain a S/N = 4 in 900 seconds of on-source integration time is plotted versus wavelength. The MDCF scales roughly as (S/N) / √(t) where t = net integration time. The horizontal bars indicate the effective bandpass at each wavelength. At the shorter wavelengths the bandpass is sometimes narrower than the symbol size.
Atmospheric transmission will affect sensitivity, depending on water vapor overburden. The sensitivity is also affected by telescope emissivity, estimated to be 15% for Figure 4-4.
Observations with FORCAST are performed using standard IR chop-nod techniques. Chop/nod amplitudes can be chosen such as that they are small enough to leave the source on the array in each position or large enough that the source is positioned off the chip for one of the chop positions. For background-limited observations, as is the case with FORCAST on SOFIA, chopping and nodding off-chip in nod-match-chop (NMC; see Section 4.2.1) will generally result in the same signal to noise (S/N) as chopping and nodding on-chip in nod-perp-chop (NPC; see Section 4.2.1). Calculations of S/N for various chop-nod scenarios are provided here.
|Filter||Channel||Single Chan. MDCF (mJy)||Dual Chan. MDCF (mJy)|
a MDCF values shown are those measured from Cycle 4 data.
b No observations were available to test the theoretical MDCF values.
The suite of 6 grisms available for FORCAST provide low to medium resolution coverage throughout most of the range from 5–40 μm (see Table 4-4). The grisms are situated in the four filter wheels: two in each SWC wheel and one in each LWC wheel. The arrangement is chosen to minimize the impact on the imaging capabilities of the instrument. The grisms are blazed, diffraction gratings used in transmission and stacked with blocking filters to prevent order contamination. A summary of the grism properties is provided in Table 4-4. Note that during Cycle 8, the cross-dispersed XD configuration will not be available. The information on XD configuration below is for informational purposes, only.
Grisms FOR_G063, FOR_G227, FOR_G329, and the FOR_XG063 dispersing grism provided by the University of Texas at Austin, are made of silicon to take advantage of its high index of refraction, which allows optimum spectral resolution. However, these grisms suffer from various absorption artifacts precluding their use in the 8–17 μm window. Coverage in this region is provided by the FOR_G111 grism (and its cross-dispersing counterpart), constructed of KRS-5 (thallium bromoiodide) by Carl-Zeiss (Jena, Germany). These latter two grisms have a lower spectral resolution due to the lower index of refraction of the KRS-5 material.
Three slits have been designed for FORCAST: two long slits (2.4 x 191 arcsec, 4.7 x 191 arcsec) and a short slit (2.4 x 11.2 arcsec). The narrow slits yield higher resolution data. All of the slits are located in the aperture wheel of the instrument. The cross-dispersed spectra are obtained by using the short slit and passing the beam first through the low-resolution grism (either FOR_G063 or FOR_G111), followed by a disperser.
Although grisms are available in both cameras, during Cycle 8 grism spectroscopy will be available only in single channel configuration.
It is important to note that due to the fixed position of the slits in the aperture wheels, the lack of a field de-rotator, and the fact that SOFIA behaves in many respects as an Alt-Az telescope, the orientation of the slit on the sky will be dependent on the flight plan and will not be able to be predetermined. Furthermore, the slit orientation rotates on the sky with each telescope Line-of-Sight (LOS) rewind (see Section 1.2.4). These limitations may be especially important to consider when proposing observations of extended objects.
|Channel||Grism||Material||Groove Sep. (μm)||Prism Angle (°)||Order||Coverage (μm)||R (λ/Δλ)a|
|SWC||FOR_G063||Si||25||6.16||1||4.9 - 8.0||120c/180|
|FOR_XG063b||Si||87||32.6||15 - 23||4.9 - 8.0||1170d|
|FOR_G111||KRS-5||32||15.2||1||8.4 - 13.7||130c/260|
|LWC||FOR_G227||Si||87||6.16||1||17.6 - 27.7||110/120|
|FOR_G329||Si||142||11.07||2||28.7 - 37.1||160/170b|
a For the 4.7'' x 191'' and the 2.4'' x 191'' slits, respectively
b Not available during Cycle 8
c The resolution of the long, narrow-slit modes is dependent on (and varies slightly with) the in-flight IQ
d Only available with the 2.4'' x 11.2'' slit
220.127.116.11 Spectroscopic Sensitivity
Tables 4-5 and 4-6 provide samples of the MDCF and Minimum Detectable Line Flux (MDLF) calculated at three different wavelengths across each grism bandpass for each of FORCAST's spectroscopic configurations. The data are provided for point sources only. The MDCF and MDLF estimates are for the raw integration time of 900 seconds and do not include observing overheads, but do account for a a two-position chop (perpendicular to the slit).
Figure 4-5 presents the continuum point source sensitivities for the FORCAST grisms. The plots are the MDCF in Jy needed for a S/N of 4 in 900 seconds at a water vapor overburden of 7 μm, an altitude of 41K feet, and a zenith angle of 60°. The rapid variations with λ are due to discrete atmospheric absorption features (as computed by ATRAN).
To determine the required integration time necessary to achieve a desired S/N ratio for a given source flux, the SOFIA Instrument Time Estimator (SITE) should be used. SITE also allows for calculation of the limiting flux for a given integration time and required S/N. Since FORCAST observations are background limited, the values given in Tables 4-5 and 4-6 and Figure 4-5 can be used to make an estimate of the required integration time using Equation 4-1:
where [S/N]req is the desired signal-to-noise ratio, Fsrc is the continuum flux of the target, texp is the exposure time on source (without taking into consideration observational overheads), and the MDCF is taken from the tables for the point-source sensitivities or estimated from the figures. For emission lines, simply use the line flux for Fsrc and use the MDLF value instead of the MDCF. However, these tables may not contain the most recent or best determined sensitivity values and therefore the on-line calculator results should be used in the actual proposal.
|Grism||λ (μm)||R = (λ/Δλ)||MDCF (mJy)||MDLF (W m-2)||R= (λ/Δλ)||MDCF (mJy)||MDLF (W m-2)|
|4.7'' Slit||2.4'' Slit|
a The 2.4 arcsec long slit mode for G329 will not be available during Cycle 8.
|Grism||λ (μm)||R = (λ/Δλ)||MDCF (mJy)||MDLF (W m-2)|
|2.4'' x 11.2'' Slit|
a XD configurations are not available during Cycle 8.