Early in 2010 we took delivery of three Andor Ikon DU 937-N cameras, to replace the image tube systems. These are mostly aimed at the laboratory microscopy market, which is much larger than astronomy in dollar terms, so they represent a lot of expensive research and development. They are also designed with laboratory scientists in mind -- scientists who have other things to worry about than tweaking their CCD systems -- so they're basically 'turnkey' systems.
Salient features of the cameras are as follows:
In the summer of 2010, Yorke Brown (a consultant with ties to Dartmouth and the Sloan telescope) designed and implemented a simple slit-viewing port for the Modspec and Mark III spectrographs. Another Andor has been dedicated to this port, so that an observer can use one camera to view the slit and another to handle guiding.
Note that you'll need the observer password to get onto the PC that controls the camera. This is not the same as the password to the Linux boxes, so -- be sure to get it from the staff!
Focus. The staff focuses the slit-viewing camera on the slit jaws as part of the instrument change, using using the focus ring on the lens attached to the camera. The focus ring has a locking screw on it, so the slit-viewing camera should remain in focus once they've set it up -- you shouldn't have to touch it. Once the slit-viewing camera is in focus, one can focus the telescope by acquiring a star, putting it near the slit (the jaws are tilted with respect to the focal plane, so the focus varies slightly across the field), and focusing the telescope until the star appears as sharp as possible. This obviously requires a star and can't be done until after sunset; there are instructions further down as to how to set up the program for focusing.
To start the cameras, simply log in to the control PC as observer and start up the Andor Solis control/analysis software by double-clicking on its icon. This will look for the camera and will not start up unless the camera is found.
If the software fails to start and immediately complains of a timeout, you may be able to solve the problem by power-cycling the camera. Unfortunately, it looks as if this requires unplugging the camera's power brick out at the telescope.
Once the program comes up, turn on the cooling (unless it's horribly humid and you're just playing around). This is in the Hardware menu, under Temperature. Minus-40 is a good operating temperature. A box at the lower left of the screen reports the temperature; it's red and turns blue when the operating temperature is reached. There's no reason not to take images when the camera is warm, but there will be substantial dark current (and hence noise).
Now open the Acquisition menu "Setup Acquisition" item. This brings up a window with lots of tabs, most of which you don't need. Important -- the tabs don't all fit at once, so you scroll left and right with little arrows at the upper right of the window.
The leftmost tab is "Setup CCD", which is obviously important. On this one:
The next tab is "Binning". The slit viewer gives 0.24 arcsec per pixel unbinned. 2x2 binning is adequate for most slit-viewing purposes; for the initial focus on the slit jaws you'll want 1x1 binning. (Also, very bright objects don't saturate as quickly with 1x1 binning). Binning reduces read time and read noise at the expense of resolution; it only takes a few seconds to change it "on the fly". Note that the Solis program still displays absolute pixel coordinates (512 square for whole frame) even if the pixels are binned.
You can also select a sub-image (measured in original pixels). If you do this you can move it around on the tiny display with the mouse. There's seldom a need for this.
The "Image orientation" tab: For the Yorke Brown Modspec/MkIII slit viewer choose:
Once you're set up, you can start looking at stuff. In the bar of icons just under the menu bar, there are little red and green circles -- these are the start/stop buttons. You want the one that says "RT" -- it starts the camera taking data continuously and reading it out. The red button stops this; you need to stop to reset the CCD parameters.
The exposure time is set by a control box that comes up when you click on the "run-time" icon, which looks like a little tv remote held diagonally. The Run time box that pops up has a slider that says "Exposure (seconds)". It starts at the fastest possible exposure, then you slide up and when you get to the top it trips over to a new range, and so on up -- when you start over, it reverts to the shortest time, which is a little awkward but not hard to get used to. You can also simply type your desired exposure in to the entry box at the bottom.
Note that you can make the picture bigger by dragging out the corners of the Solis window.
Much of the power of the Solis software comes from the speed and convenience with which you can control the display to optimize your view. These controls are as follows:
The power of the Solis software is evident when you're trying to focus the telescope on a star. Here's a procedure for this:
For acquisition, you'll want to see the whole field, and set the exposure to something reasonable. Note that if you have faint targets, but also have some brighter stars in the field, it's best to use short exposures to get near the target (because the feedback is quick), and then set the exposure long to see the actual target.
Once your target is in or near the slit, you can use the drag-and-expand feature to get it dead-center, and so you can keep an eye on it without having to squint.
In 2011 January I had cause to use one of the standard Solis features to do fast photometry - I'd discovered a system with a white dwarf eclipse, which basically made the star disappear in a couple of seconds, and reappear in a similarly short interval some 7 minutes later. I was delighted to find that the Andor could record this. Here are some notes on how to do this.
Timebase. The windows control computer is supposedly on NTP, but it synchronizes very infrequently. If absolute timing is important, work with the staff to get it synched during the day. If you don't have a chance to do this, collapse the Solis window with the little "underscore-like" window control button, bring up the control panel, look at date and time, and figure out the offset by comparing the computer clock to something more reliable (e.g. the Linux system clocks, which are carefully synched via real NTP).
In the instructions below, recall that the tabs in Acquistion are accessed using the left-right arrows toward the upper right.
Setup. In Acquisition, under the Setup CCD tab,
Now turn to the Binning tab. To avoid huge data set and keep the frame rate high, you may want to bin 2x2 and specify a subarray. To do this,
Now select the Auto-save tab. In here,
You should be ready to go now. To take signal, go to the Acquisition menu and simply Take Signal. The images will be displayed as they come in, and you can play with the stretch, etc.
Once the operation finished, you'll have a 3-dimensional FITS file in the directory you specify. The file is time-stamped to the nearest second (only), and the time between frames is given in the header to five digits or so. To retrieve the FITS file(s) from the Windows machine, it's easiest (at this point) to use a USB memory stick. If you display one of these datacubes in DS9, it will let you step through the images and see what happens. For further reduction, you're on your own!