ACIS background

Maxim Markevitch ( for Cal and ACIS teams, 10/19/99

Other releases:

The ACIS background consists of a relatively soft XRB contribution and cosmic ray-induced events with a hard spectrum. Most cosmic ray events can be filtered out by applying a grade filter (e.g., rejecting ASCA grades 1,5,7). After such filtering, the XRB component dominates below about 2 keV (during the quiet background intervals, see below) and the cosmic ray component dominates at higher energies, consistently with the pre-launch estimates.

Background flares

A phenomenon not anticipated prior to launch that can seriously affect the scientific value of an observation is background flares when the count rate can increase by a factor of up to 100. Such flares have been observed anywhere in the orbit, including near the apogee. They are most prominent in the BI chips but also affect the FI chips. The nature of these flares is under investigation, but they generally correlate with the increased EPHIN rate for soft electrons. The flares are easily seen in the ACIS light curves; several examples are shown below.

The figure below shows an observation moderately affected by the flares (OBSID 1190). The horizontal axis gives Chandra time; the rates shown are for the BI chip S3 (upper curve) and the FI chip I2 (lower curve), for ASCA grades 02346 and energies below 10 keV. Although celestial sources were not excluded from these light curves, the flux is dominated by the background:

(here is a postscript version of the plot)

The rate is constant most of the time but there are several strong flares. Note how chip S3 is affected more strongly by these flares.

Below is an example of an extremely bad observation (OBSID 1232 taken on 1999 Aug 27). The first figure shows the rate for S3 (only grades 02346 and energies 0.3-10 keV are included; celestial sources are excluded). Compare to the average rate of 1.2 cts/s/chip during the quiet intervals:

(Postscript figure)

And these are light curves for the FI chips S2 (upper curve) and I2 (lower curve) from the same observation; compare to the quiet rates of 0.5-0.7 cts/s/chip:

(Postscript figure)

The figure below shows the background spectra during a moderate flare and during a quiet interval (OBSID 1226) in the area of chip S3 free of sources. Their exposures are similar (9-10 ks):

(Postscript figure)

The next figure shows a difference of the above spectra normalized by their exposures, to give an idea of the spectrum of the additional background component arising during the high rate intervals:

(Postscript figure)

The telescope effective area drops off much more steeply than this spectrum does, thus the component is not due to X-rays reflected by the mirror.

Quiet background

During the quiet background periods, the background is rather constant, both short-term and long-term. The rate of the high-energy, cosmic ray-dominated component observed during the calibration phase is close to that observed prior to the mirror door opening (for the latter see Fred Baganoff's ACIS memo #162 elsewhere at this site). Rates for the FI chips are close among each other but differ from the BI chip rates. Below are the observed rates per chip, for 0.3-10 keV energy band, including only ASCA grades 02346, excluding the obvious celestial sources but not excluding the Cosmic X-ray Background):
S3 chip:     1.10-1.20 cts/s
S2 chip:     0.50-0.60 cts/s
I2,I3 chips: 0.45-0.50 cts/s

In the 0.5-7 keV energy band, the values are:

S2 chip:     0.29-0.32
S3 chip:     0.51-0.53
S4 chip:     0.65       (note that this chip is bad below 2 kev)
The picture for the FI chips is complicated by the August 1999 sharp CTI increase. It causes some of the good grades to migrate to grades 5,7 and be rejected by the standard grade filtering applied to derive the above values. The BI chips are unaffected.

Frequency of flares

From a number of long ACIS exposures in which the field was more or less empty, it appears that roughly half of the time the BI chip background rate is more than twice the quiet rate. For the FI chips, about 1/6 of the time the background rate is high. A policy is under discussion whether to reschedule observations whose scientific value is strongly affected by the background flares.

What to do with the flares

For observations of faint extended objects, it will usually be best to discard the time intervals with flares. Even though this can significantly shorten the exposure, the flares are so bright that it may still increase the signal to noise ratio. The flares are easily identifiable in the ACIS light curve; a tool to automate such cleaning is being tested.

The Cal team is also accumulating the observations of empty fields free of background flares. Such a dataset could be used to evaluate the detector+cosmic background for those observations where the source fills the field of view. Because outside the flares, the background is relatively constant, such a background dataset could be normalized by the respective exposures, after the observation has been cleaned of the flares.