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Charge-coupled devices (CCDs), the standard imagers at all observatories today, consist of integrated circuits made through the same process as computer memory or the chips in cell phones. Complementary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOS) are an alternative image-sensor technology with high noise immunity and low static power consumption; however, CCDs are the dominant imagers today, so we will concentrate our discussion on their use.
Silicon crystals are sensitive to light through the process by which incident photons of sufficient energy can excite electrons into the valence levels of the atom. Photons with energies less than the valence levels fail to create photoelectrons and are therefore not detected, while the higher-energy photons are absorbed near the surface of the silicon layer before creating usable photoelectrons. If one applies a voltage to the silicon in a controlled manner, these photoelectrons can be either held in place (during the integration) or moved through the silicon lattice (during readout) and collected.
What is a charge-coupled device?
When a CCD is constructed, a square grid of microscopic electrodes called gates is fabricated on the surface of a silicon wafer (see Fig. 14.1). The orthogonal axes of the grid are called columns and rows and the grid elements are the pixels, which have typical sizes of 10–20 üm. When exposed to optical light, the silicon substrate reacts to each absorbed photon by creating one photoelectron–hole pair. The gate voltages control the movement and position of these photoelectrons.
The Kepler Observatory offers unprecedented photometric precision (<1 mmag) and cadence for monitoring the central stars of planetary nebulae, allowing the detection of tiny periodic light curve variations, a possible signature of binarity. With this precision free from the observational gaps dictated by weather and lunar cycles, we are able to detect companions at much larger separations and with much smaller radii than ever before. We have been awarded observing time to obtain light-curves of the central stars of the six confirmed and possible planetary nebulae in the Kepler field, including the newly discovered object Kn 61, at cadences of both 30 min and 1 min. Of these six objects, we could confirm for three a periodic variability consistent with binarity. Two others are variables, but the initial data set presents only weak periodicities. For the central star of Kn 61, Kepler data will be available in the near future.
Having surveyed ≈ 10% of the sky, we have identified more than 130 PN candidates by surveying multicolour Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), Sloan Digitized Sky Survey (SDSS), and combined [O III], Hα and [S II] images. In a first imaging and spectroscopy campaign, 51 objects were identified as true and probable PNe. This work presents an additional 17 probable or possible PNe identified since that study. The majority of these candidates are situated at Galactic latitudes |b| > 5^, with the exception of seven objects located closer to the Galactic plane. Using the techniques described here that do not require any new survey data, we anticipate that many more PNe are waiting to be found, perhaps as many as 90.
As we have noted before, the WG-IR was created following a Joint Commission Meeting at the IAU General Assembly in Baltimore in 1988, a meeting that provided both diagnosis and prescription for the perceived ailments of infrared photometry at the time. The results were summarized in Milone (1989). The challenges involve how to explain the failure to systematically achieve the milli-magnitude precision expected of infrared photometry and an apparent 3% limit on system transformability. The proposed solution was to re-define the broadband Johnson system, the passbands of which had proven so unsatisfactory that over time effectively different systems proliferated although bearing the same JHKLMNQ designations; the new system needed to be better positioned and centered in the atmospheric windows of the Earth's atmosphere, and the variable water vapour content of the atmosphere needed to be measured in real time to better correct for atmospheric extinction.
We present the results of eighteen non-continuous nights of time series photometric observations of a 1.25 deg2 field in Cygnus centered on the NASA Kepler Mission field of view. Using the Case Western Burrell Schmidt telescope we gathered a dataset containing light curves of roughly 30,000 stars with 14 < r < 19. We have statistically examined each light curve to test for variability, periodicity, and unusual light curve trends, including exoplanet transits. We present a summary of our photometric project including a characterization of the level and content of stellar variability in this field. We will also discuss our potential exoplanet candidates.
One of the basic astronomical pursuits throughout history has been to determine the amount and temporal nature of the flux emitted by an object as a function of wavelength. This process, termed photometry, forms one of the fundamental branches of astronomy. Photometry is important for all types of objects from planets to stars to galaxies, each with their own intricacies, procedures, and problems. At times, we may be interested in only a single measurement of the flux of some object, while at other times we could want to obtain temporal measurements on time scales from seconds or less to years or longer. Some photometric output products, such as differential photometry, require fewer additional steps, whereas to obtain the absolute flux for an object, additional CCD frames of photometric standards are needed. These standard star frames are used to correct for the Earth's atmosphere, color terms, and other possible sources of extinction that may be peculiar to a given observing site or a certain time of year (Pecker, 1970).
We start this chapter with a brief discussion of the basic methods of performing photometry when using digital data from 2-D arrays. It will be assumed here that the CCD images being operated on have already been reduced and calibrated as described in detail in the previous chapter. We will see that photometric measurements require that we accomplish only a few steps to provide output flux values. Additional steps are then required to produce light curves or absolute fluxes.
Although imaging and photometry have been and continue to be mainstays of astronomical observations, spectroscopy is indeed the premier method by which we can learn the physics that occurs within or near the object under study. Photographic plates obtained the first astronomical spectra of bright stars in the late nineteenth century, while the early twentieth century saw the hand-in-hand development of astronomical spectroscopy and atomic physics. Astronomical spectroscopy with photographic plates, or with some method of image enhancement placed in front of a photographic plate, has led to numerous discoveries and formed the basis for modern astrophysics. Astronomical spectra have also had a profound influence on the development of the fields of quantum mechanics and the physics of extreme environments. The low quantum efficiency and nonlinear response of photographic plates placed the ultimate limiting factors on their use.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, astronomy saw the introduction of numerous electronic imaging devices, most of which were applied as detectors for spectroscopic observations. Television- type devices, diode arrays, and various silicon arrays such as Reticons were called into use. They were a step up from plates in a number of respects, one of which was their ability to image not only a spectrum of an object of interest, but, simultaneously, the nearby sky background spectrum as well – a feat not always possible with photographic plates.
The current high level of understanding of CCDs in terms of their manufacture, inherent characteristics, instrumental capabilities, and data analysis techniques make these devices desirable for use in spacecraft and satellite observatories and at wavelengths other than the optical. Silicon provides at least some response to photons over the large wavelength range from about 1 to 10 000 Å. Figure 7.1 shows this response by presenting the absorption depth of silicon over an expanded wavelength range. Unless aided in some manner, the intrinsic properties of silicon over the UV and EUV spectral range (1000–3000 Å) are such that the QE of the device at these wavelengths is typically only a few percent or less. This low QE value is due to the fact that for these very short wavelengths, the absorption depth of silicon is near 30–50 Å, far less than the wavelength of the incident light itself. Thus, the majority of the light (~ 70%) is reflected with the remaining percentage passing directly through the CCD unhindered.
Observations at wavelengths shorter than about 3000 Å involve additional complexities not encountered with ground-based optical observations. Access to these short wavelengths can only be obtained via space-based telescopes or high altitude rocket and balloon flights. The latter are of short duration from only a few hours up to possibly hundreds of days and use newly developing high-altitude ultra-long duration balloon flight technologies.
Before we begin our discussion of the physical and intrinsic characteristics of charge-coupled devices (Chapter 3), we want to spend a brief moment looking into how CCDs are manufactured and some of the basic, important properties of their electrical operation.
The method of storage and information retrieval within a CCD is dependent on the containment and manipulation of electrons (negative charge) and holes (positive charge) produced within the device when exposed to light. The produced photoelectrons are stored in the depletion region of a metal insulator semiconductor (MIS) capacitor, and CCD arrays simply consist of many of these capacitors placed in close proximity. Voltages, which are static during collection, are manipulated during readout in such as way as to cause the stored charges to flow from one capacitor to another, providing the reason for the name of these devices. These charge packets, one for each pixel, are passed through readout electronics that detect and measure each charge in a serial fashion. An estimate of the numerical value of each packet is sent to the next step in this process, which takes the input analog signal and assigns a digital number to be output and stored in computer memory.
Thus, originally designed as a memory storage device, CCDs have swept the market as replacements for video tubes of all kinds owing to their many advantages in weight, power consumption, noise characteristics, linearity, spectral response, and others.
Even casual users of CCDs have run across the terms read noise, signal-to-noise ratio, linearity, and many other possibly mysterious sounding bits of CCD jargon. This chapter will discuss the meanings of the terms used to characterize the properties of CCD detectors. Techniques and methods by which the reader can determine some of these properties on their own and why certain CCDs are better or worse for a particular application are discussed in the following chapters. Within the discussions, mention will be made of older types of CCDs. While these are generally not available or used anymore, there is a certain historical perspective to such a presentation and it will likely provide some amusement for the reader along the way.
One item to keep in mind throughout this chapter and in the rest of the book is that all electrons look alike. When a specific amount of charge is collected within a pixel during an integration, one can no longer know the exact source of each electron (e.g., was it due to a stellar photon or is it an electron generated by thermal motions within the CCD itself?). We have to be clever to separate the signal from the noise. There are two notable quotes to cogitate on while reading this text. The first is from an early review article on CCDs by Craig Mackay (1986), who states: “The only uniform CCD is a dead CCD.”
This appendix provides a reading list covering the aspects of CCD development, research, and astronomical usage. There are so many articles, books, and journal papers covering the innumerable aspects of information on CCDs that the material presented in a book this size or any size can only cover a small fraction of the details of such work. Even the list presented here does not cover all aspects of interest concerning the use of CCDs in astronomy, but it does provide a very good starting point. The growth of information on CCDs has risen sharply over the past ten years and will, no doubt, continue to do so. Thus the student of CCD science must constantly try to keep up with the latest developments both in astronomy and within the field of opto-electronics, both areas where progess is being made. The internet is a powerful tool to help in this pursuit. Using a good search engine (e.g. Google) type in items such as “deep depletion,” or “L3CCD,” or “MIT/LL” and you'll get back many items of interest.
Much of the information on CCDs is contained in books devoted to the subject. Numerous SPIE, IEEE, and other conferences publish their proceedings in books as well. Detailed information is available in the scientific literature some of which we reference in this volume. Many refereed articles of interest are not listed here as they are easily searched for via web-based interfaces such as the Astrophysics Data System (ADS).
Charge-Coupled Devices (CCDs) are the state-of-the-art detector in many fields of observational science. Updated to include all of the latest developments in CCDs, this second edition of the Handbook of CCD Astronomy is a concise and accessible reference on all practical aspects of using CCDs. Starting with their electronic workings, it discusses their basic characteristics and then gives methods and examples of how to determine these values. While the book focuses on the use of CCDs in professional observational astronomy, advanced amateur astronomers, and researchers in physics, chemistry, medical imaging, and remote sensing will also find it very valuable. Tables of useful and hard-to-find data, key practical equations, and new exercises round off the book and ensure that it provides an ideal introduction to the practical use of CCDs for graduate students, and a handy reference for more experienced users.
Seven years ago, Cambridge University Press began a new series of books called Handbooks. I was fortunate enough to be asked to author the one on CCDs. Little did I realize how wonderful of an undertaking that writing this book would be. I have learned and relearned a number of details about CCDs and had cause to read many scientific and popular papers and articles I otherwise would have overlooked. The greatest benefit, however, has been the many gracious colleagues and students who have provided comments, revisions, suggestions, support, and simply said thanks. The first edition of the Handbook of CCD Astronomy was written for you and you have truly made it your own through this volume.
When I was first asked to write a second edition, I have to admit I was skeptical that enough had changed to warrant it. I am happy to say I was completely wrong. Upon going back and reading the original volume, I had no problem seeing its many pages of outdated material. There are, however, some fundamental discussions and properties of CCDs that are timeless, and remain in the present volume. New areas of CCD development abound and to highlight a few this second edition is a bit longer and has a few more illustrations. The areas of faster and higher performance electronics to control and read out a CCD, better analog-to-digital circuitry, and better manufactured CCDs are some of the additions discussed within.
Silicon. This semiconductor material certainly has large implications on our life. Its uses are many, including silicon oil lubricants, implants to change our bodies' outward appearance, electric circuitry of all kinds, nonstick frying pans, and, of course, charge-coupled devices.
Charge-coupled devices (CCDs) and their use in astronomy will be the topic of this book. We will only briefly discuss the use of CCDs in commercial digital cameras and video cameras but not their many other industrial and scientific applications. As we will see, there are four main methods of employing CCD imagers in astronomical work: imaging, astrometry, photometry, and spectroscopy. Each of these topics will be discussed in turn. Since the intrinsic physical properties of silicon, and thus CCDs, are most useful at optical wavelengths (about 3000 to 11 000 Å), the majority of our discussion will be concerned with visible light applications. Additional specialty or lesser-used techniques and CCD applications outside the optical bandwidth will be mentioned only briefly. The newest advances in CCD systems in the past five years lies in the areas of (1) manufacturing standards that provide higher tolerances in the CCD process leading directly to a reduction in their noise output, (2) increased quantum efficiency, especially in the far red spectral regions, (3) new generation control electronics with the ability for faster readout, low noise performance, and more complex control functions, and (4) new types of scientific grade CCDs with some special properties.
We are all aware of the amazing astronomical images produced with telescopes these days, particularly those displayed as color representations and shown off on websites and in magazines. For those of us who are observers, we deal with our own amazing images produced during each observing run. Just as spectacular are photometric, astrometric, and spectroscopic results generally receiving less fanfare but often of more astrophysical interest. What all of these results have in common is the fact that behind every good optical image lies a good charge-coupled device.
Charge-coupled devices, or CCDs as we know them, are involved in many aspects of everyday life. Examples include video cameras for home use and those set up to automatically trap speeders on British highways, hospital X-ray imagers and high-speed oscilloscopes, and digital cameras used as quality control monitors. This book discusses these remarkable semiconductor devices and their many applications in modern day astronomy.
Written as an introduction to CCDs for observers using professional or off-the-shelf CCD cameras as well as a reference guide, this volume is aimed at students, novice users, and all the rest of us who wish to learn more of the details of how a CCD operates. Topics include the various types of CCD; the process of data taking and reduction; photometric, astrometric, and spectroscopic methods; and CCD applications outside of the optical band-pass.