Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Skip to the navigation links
Last modified: December 2013

Jump to: Description · Examples · Bugs · See Also

AHELP for CIAO 4.9 Sherpa v1


Context: confidence


Estimate confidence intervals for selected thawed parameters based on covariance method


covar( [id], [otherids], [parameters] )


The covariance function computes confidence interval bounds for the specified model parameters in the dataset. The method is based on computing the covariance matrix and returning the diagonal elements. The function may be called as "covariance" or simply "covar".

The covariance command differs from projection ("ahelp projection") in that all other thawed parameters are fixed to the initial best-fit values, instead of being allowed to float to new best-fit values. While projection is more general (e.g. allowing the user to examine the parameter space away from the best-fit point), it is in the strictest sense no more accurate than covariance for determining confidence intervals.

  • id, otherids - the id(s) of the dataset(s) to use; default is to fit all datasets; otherids=None
  • parameters - model parameters on which covariance should be run; default is all thawed parameters

If no arguments are given, covariance is run on all thawed parameters for all datasets which have a model defined.

When running on multiple ids and parameters, the arguments may be given in any order (see the examples); any argument that is not defined as a model parameter is assumed to be a data id.

To control the number of sigma used for the limits (i.e. the change in statistic), set the value of get_covar.sigma ("ahelp get_covar"). The default setting is to calculate +/- 1 sigma limits.

Because covariance estimates confidence intervals for each parameter independently, the relationship between sigma and the change in statistic value delta_S can be particularly simple: sigma = the square root of delta_S for statistics sampled from the chi-square distribution and for the Cash statistic, and is approximately equal to the square root of (2 * delta_S) for fits based on the general log-likelihood.

Accuracy of confidence intervals

An estimated confidence interval is accurate if and only if:

  • the chi-square or logL surface in parameter space is approximately shaped like a multi-dimensional paraboloid, and
  • the best-fit point is sufficiently far (~3 sigma) from parameter space boundaries.

One may determine if these conditions hold, for example, by plotting the fit statistic as a function of each parameter's values (the curve should approximate a parabola) and by examining contour plots of the fit statistics made by varying the values of two parameters at a time (the contours should be elliptical, and parameter space boundaries should be no closer than approximately 3 sigma from the best-fit point). The int_unc ("ahelp int_unc"). and reg_unc ("ahelp reg_unc"). can be used to create the contours.

If either of the conditions given above does not hold, then the output from covariance may be meaningless except to give an idea of the scale of the confidence intervals. To accurately determine the confidence intervals, one would have to reparameterize the model, or use Monte Carlo simulations or Bayesian methods.

Example 1

sherpa> covar()

Run covariance on the default dataset(s), calculating limits for all thawed parameters of all data sets for which the user has defined a model to be fit. The output for two data sets looks like:

covariance 1-sigma bounds:
   Param            Best-Fit  Lower Bound  Upper Bound
   -----            --------  -----------  -----------
   p1.gamma          2.15852   -0.0827856    0.0827856
   p1.ampl        0.00022484 -1.48256e-05  1.48256e-05
   g.gamma           2.15147   -0.0800326    0.0800326
   g.ampl         0.00176499 -2.14396e-05  2.14396e-05

Example 2

sherpa> covar(2, g.gamma)

Compute parameter limits for the model parameter g.gamma, which is assigned to dataset 2. The output is:

covariance 1-sigma bounds:
   Param            Best-Fit  Lower Bound  Upper Bound
   -----            --------  -----------  -----------
   g.gamma          2.15147   -0.0800326    0.0800326

Example 3

sherpa> covar(1, p1.ampl, 2, g.fwhm, g.ampl)
sherpa> covar(1, 2, p1.ampl, g.fwhm, g.ampl)

These commands are two equivalent ways of running covariance on one parameter from dataset 1 (p1.ampl) and two parameters from dataset 2 (g.fwhm and g.ampl). Note that the order in which the ids and parameters names are supplied does not matter. In both cases, the output is:

covariance 1-sigma bounds:
   Param            Best-Fit  Lower Bound  Upper Bound
   -----            --------  -----------  -----------
   p1.ampl       0.000224842 -1.48255e-05  1.48255e-05
   g.fwhm            2.76124   -0.0335314    0.0335314
   g.ampl         0.00176499 -2.14396e-05  2.14396e-05


See the bugs pages on the Sherpa website for an up-to-date listing of known bugs.

See Also

conf, get_conf, get_covar, get_int_proj, get_int_unc, get_proj, get_reg_proj, get_reg_unc, int_proj, int_unc, projection, reg_proj, reg_unc, set_conf_opt, set_covar_opt, set_proj_opt

Last modified: December 2013
Smithsonian Institute Smithsonian Institute

The Chandra X-Ray Center (CXC) is operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA.   Email: Smithsonian Institution, Copyright © 1998-2017. All rights reserved.