Twilight/night sky images are often used for flat-fielding CCD images, but the brightness gradient in twilight/ night sky causes problems of accurate flat-field correction in astronomical images for wide-field telescopes. Using data from the Antarctic Survey Telescope (AST3), we found that when the sky brightness gradient is minimum and stable, there is still a gradient of 1% across AST3’s field-of-view of 4.3 square degrees. We tested various approaches to remove the varying gradients in individual flat-field images. Our final optimal method can reduce the spatially dependent errors caused by the gradient to the negligible level. We also suggest a guideline of flat-fielding using twilight/night sky images for wide-field robotic autonomous telescopes.
We have developed a new method to correct dark current at relatively high temperatures for Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) images when dark frames cannot be obtained on the telescope. For images taken with the Antarctic Survey Telescopes (AST3) in 2012, due to the low cooling efficiency, the median CCD temperature was -46°C, resulting in a high dark current level of about 3e−/pix/sec, even comparable to the sky brightness (10e−/pix/sec). If not corrected, the nonuniformity of the dark current could even overweight the photon noise of the sky background. However, dark frames could not be obtained during the observing season because the camera was operated in frame-transfer mode without a shutter, and the telescope was unattended in winter. Here we present an alternative, but simple and effective method to derive the dark current frame from the scientific images. Then we can scale this dark frame to the temperature at which the scientific images were taken, and apply the dark frame corrections to the scientific images. We have applied this method to the AST3 data, and demonstrated that it can reduce the noise to a level roughly as low as the photon noise of the sky brightness, solving the high noise problem and improving the photometric precision. This method will also be helpful for other projects that suffer from similar issues.
The photon transfer curve (PTC, variance vs. signal level) is a commonly used and effective tool in characterizing CCD performance. It is theoretically linear in the range where photon shot noise dominates, and its slope is utilized to derive the gain of the CCD. However, recent researches on different CCDs have revealed that the variance progressively drops at high signal levels, while the linearity shown by signal versus exposure time is still excellent and unaffected. On the other hand, bright stars are found to exhibit fatter point spread function (PSF). Both nonlinear PTC and the brighter-fatter effect are regarded as the result of spreading of charges between pixels, an interaction progress increasing with signal level. In this work we investigate the nonlinear PTC based on the images with a STA1600FT CCD camera, whose PTC starts to become nonlinear at about 1/3 full well. To explain the phenomenon, we present a model to characterize the charge-sharing PSF. This signal-dependent PSF can be derived from flat-field frames, and allow us to quantify the effects on photometry and measured shape of stars. This effect is essentially critical for projects requiring accurate photometry and shape parameters.
The AST3 project consists of three large field of view survey telescopes with 680mm primary mirror, mainly for observations of supernovas and extrasolar planets searching from Antarctic Dome A where is very likely to be the best astronomical site on earth for astronomical observations from optical wavelength to thermal infrared and beyond, according to the four years site testing works by CCAA, UNSW and PRIC. The first AST3 was mounted on Dome A in Jan. 2012 and automatically run from March to May 2012. Based on the onsite winterization performance of the first AST3, some improvements such as the usage of high resolution encoders, defrosting method, better thermal control and easier onsite assembly et al were done for the second one. The winterization observation of AST3-2 in Mohe was carried on from Nov. 2013 to Apr. 2014, where is the most northern and coldest part of China with the lowest temperature around -50°. The technical modifications and testing observation results will be given in this paper. The third AST3 will be optimized from optical to thermal infrared aiming diffraction limited imaging with K band. Thus the whole AST3 project will be a good test bench for the development of future larger aperture optical/infrared Antarctic telescopes such as the proposed 2.5m Kunlun Dark Universe Survey Telescope project.