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Instrument & Calibration



Cycle 6 Information

GALEX Project at Caltech



The high-sensitivity GALEX detectors dictate strict brightness limits for target fields. The GALEX satellite operates in a largely autonomous way, with observing plans typically uploaded weekly. These properties constrain the observations GALEX is able to do. The major constraints are summarized below.

  • GALEX observes only during orbital night, when it is in the shadow of the earth. This constrains observations of most targets to a couple of observing “seasons” of a month or so duration per year. You can check when GALEX can observe your target with the Visibility Tool.
  • GALEX does not observe near the sun, earth limb, moon, or bright planets. The large sun avoidance angle (85 degrees) combined with other avoidance zones that in practice most individual targets are observable for only a small fraction (~10%) of the year. You can check when these will be a problem for your target with the various Avoidance Checkers (Sun, Earth, Moon, Jupiter, Mars).
  • GALEX detectors will be saturated and potentially damaged by UV-bright stars that are commonly encountered on the sky (particularly in the Galactic plane and the Magellanic Clouds). You can check your target fields for bright stars using the Safety Checker. Limits are currently, for point sources (assuming flat spectra):

FUV: 5,000cps mAB =  9.5      Fλ = 7 x 10 -12 erg cm -2 s -1 Å -1 

NUV: 30,000cps mAB = 8.9    Fλ = 6 x 10 -12 erg cm -2 s -1 Å -1

  • GALEX detectors will also be saturated and possibly damaged by overbright fields with a) too many UV-bright stars or b) high backgrounds. Potentially too-high backgrounds for the NUV detector usually arise from the blue end of solar spectrum in zodiacal light; for the FUV detector they are usually diffuse galactic emission. The Safety Checker will tell you if your target field is overbright. You can see what bright stars are in / near your target field and where they are with the GMOSAIC tool. You can estimate the contribution to the total field brightness at different times of the year with the Zodi Checker. Total field upper limits are:

FUV: 15,000cps     Fλ =  2 x 10 -11 erg cm -2 s -1 Å -1 

NUV: 50,000cps    Fλ = 1 x 10 -11 erg cm -2 s -1 Å -1 

  • Target positions that have stars 5000 < NUV cts/s < 30000 cts/s in the field of view must be observed in "petal pattern" mode. In this mode each exposure is split into 12 pointing positions separated by 1.6 arcminutes arrayed in a circle of diameter 6 arcminutes. Stars that are estimated to produce > 5000 NUV cts/s can be no closer then 10 arcminutes from the center of the field of view. The global NUV count rate limit for petal pattern mode is raised to 80000 cts/s. However the FUV point source and global count rate limits remain the same as normal mode observations (5000 and 15000 cts/s respectively). Note that scheduling constraints only allow petal pattern mode targets to be assigned to eclipses where the SAA does not shorten the night side exposure. This will decrease the total number of eclipses during the GI cycle where petal pattern mode targets do not violate other observing constraints (e.g. boresite to Sun, Earth, Moon, etc.). The detailed construction of each petal pattern mode observation and the evaluation of the safety of such observations will be made in phase 2 of the technical review.

Pointing centers must be separated from bright stars by:

Fluxes and magnitudes in NUV band (~ 2300 Å)
Flux in ergs cm-2 s-1 Å-1


for an object with

FluxNUV = 1 x 10-12,


mAB = 10.8

(5,000 cps)


for an object with

FluxNUV = 1 x 10-11,


mAB = 8.3

(50,000 cps)


for an object with

FluxNUV = 4 x 10-11,


mAB = 6.8

(200,000 cps)


for an object with

FluxNUV = 1 x 10-10,


mAB = 5.8

(500,000 cps)


for an object with

FluxNUV = 2 x 10-10,


mAB = 5.0

(1,000,000 cps)

Please keep these limits in mind when you design your observation program. Also, see helpful hints at: http://galexgi.gsfc.nasa.gov/tools/chkbstar_whatif.html

Non-linear responses when observing bright fields:

There are two sources of photometric non-linearity in the GALEX instrument: global dead time resulting from the finite time required for the electronics to assemble photon lists, and local sensitivity reduction resulting from the MCP-limited current supply to small regions around a bright sources (gain sag). (The microchannel-plate, or MCP, electron-multiplier array is the central component of the GALEX detectors.)

Global dead time refers to the fraction of detected events lost due to the finite processing speed of the electronics. It increases monotonically with global input count rate. It is easily measured using an on-board pulser, which electronically stimulates each detector anode with a steady, low rate stream of electronic pulses that are imaged off the field of view. Since the real rate of these pulses is accurately known, the measured rate is used by the pipeline to scale the effective exposure and thus correct the global dead time for all sources in the field simultaneously. This correction is typically about 10% in NUV and negligible in FUV, however it can become quite significant (~30%) for the brightest fields.

The actual fraction of observing time lost is 1-(1/(1+Td*R)), where R is the corrected count rate, which is what is seen in GALEX data products, and Td is a constant, 5.52e-6 sec, which is the (non-paralyzable) deadtime for each photon event. The deadtime correction returns the proper fluxes, but, of course, does not alter the reduced SNR that results from the loss of observing time. To mitigate the effect of the deadtime on SNR, one has to increase the exposure time by a factor of 1+Td*R.

Local dead time, or "gain sag" results from the limited ability of MCPs to provide current to a locally-intense region of illumination. It is difficult to correct with high accuracy, partly because it requires many observations to calibrate sufficiently and partly because it is a function of MCP gain (which varies over the detector). Local dead time affects both the measured count rate of individual bright sources and the shapes of those sources. We have used standard stars to estimate the local dead time in each band, as shown in the count-rate linearity figure. (These observations are already corrected for global dead time effects, so the dead time shown in the figure is zero up to the point where the MCPs begin to suffer from local dead time effects.) The gain sag causes some photon events to fall below electronics pulse-height thresholds. These gain sag effects recover immediately after the bright source is removed, except in the case of very long, bright-source exposures. [The GALEX mission planning team intends to avoid this sort of observation, to avoid permanent damage to the detector photocathodes.] The NUV detector is suffers less from gain sag than the FUV, because it is proximity-focused and thus presents a larger image (with lower count density) to the MCP.

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Responsible NASA Official: Susan G. Neff
J.D. Myers

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