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UVES Quality Control:
System Efficiency

CAL | HC | refs | QC
Trending & QC1
   ECH - System Efficiency
Data Packages
Data Management
Solar&sky spectra
QC links:
Daily Health Checks:    
SystemEfficiency BLUE S
SystemEfficiency RED S
SystemEfficiency perWL
QC1 uves_std database (advanced users): browse | plot
   Click on CURRENT to see the last trending (Health Check).
   Click on HISTORY to see the historical evolution of the trending.

top Introduction

This tutorial provides information for the system efficiency Health Check monitoring. It is based on the measurement of QC1 parameters of STD_STAR calibration data once per night, weather and scheduling conditions allowing. Each STD_STAR OB makes a single observation of a spectrophotometric standard star in a specific instrument and wavelength setup, thus allowing evaluation of the instrument+telescope+atmosphere efficiency.

top QC1 parameter

efficiency value at wave_c (QC1 database table uves_std, column max_effic)
Description: The measured efficiency at a central wavelength of each wavelength range on each chip.

This QC parameter is calculated by the QC report scripts, not by the pipeline.



Flux standard stars (STD) are observed on a regular basis with UVES on Paranal. Their purpose is to monitor the overall instrument efficiency (DQE; telescope+instrument+detectors) and to provide a measurement of the spectral response. They are taken with the slit width set to 5 or 10 arcseconds.

The flux standard table was delivered as part of the data package. It is also included in the calSelector data sets. It can be downloaded as flxstd.tfits.Z (576 kB). It is based on the ESO library of standard stars. The extinction table (also delivered) can be downloaded here.

Strategy for acquisition

Two kinds of standard star observations exist: measurements close to morning or evening twilight when science data are taken during the night and monthly long-term measurements during night-time.

Standard stars are observed in three dichroic settings (346+580, 390+564, and 437+860, 1x1 binning), independently of the settings used for science observations during the night. These three dichroic settings are measured every night with science data. They are acquired close to twilight, with standards taken from a small set of stars with few spectral features. They are used for routine performance checks and as input to create master response curves for flux calibration of science spectra.


Long-term measurements: In addition, a dedicated set of standard stars is observed about once to twice a month during night-time under photometric and dark conditions and at low airmass. The reason for this strategy is to avoid the large intrinsic scatter (see below) of the daily measurements taken close to twilight. These measurements are used for long-term trending of the overall instrument efficiency. They can be identified by a OBS.NAME keyword "efficiency-mon-".

QC1 parameters: chromatic efficiency

The pipeline processes the raw STD data (de-bias, flatten, average extraction), divides the flux table into the result and finally transforms into a fractional efficiency (where 0.1 means 10% of all incoming photons are registered on the CCD). The pipeline delivers an efficiency table (called UV_PEFC). Find more about the reduction of STD files here.

The efficiency table can be plotted, per order, over wavelength. The blaze wavelength of each order and the corresponding efficiency value there is written as QC1 parameter into the FITS header. The corresponding numbers for the central order are stored in the QC1 database uves_std as wave_c and max_effic (see here). The max_effic parameter is used for trending, assuming that all efficiency curves per setting are similar apart from a scaling factor. Their trending with time primarily reflects efficiency variations of instrument components.
top Trending: Chromatic efficiency DQE

The max_effic values for all standard settings are used to

  • monitor the instrument performance in all standard settings over time
  • construct the overall UVES chromatic efficiency function by combining the available values per setting.

The proper selection of input data is crucial. Accepting all max_effic values as produced by the pipeline creates a large scatter. Reasons for this are:

  • there are non-photometric nights
  • there are standard stars visible from Paranal at relatively high airmass
  • often twilight data have a high SKY contribution
  • sometimes data are taken under bad seeing
  • there are sometimes STD frames taken with less than 10" slit width
  • some STD stars have a flat continuum, others have a rich absorption line spectrum.

High-airmass data have the spectrum in the blue exposures shifted off-center which, especially in combination with a high sky level, brings the pipeline algorithm to assume an unrealistic background, with odd results for the efficiency. The same effect is observed under bad seeing since then the SKY level is unreliable as well. Stars with a rich absorption line spectrum tend to produce a larger scatter since max_effic is monochromatic.

See the current plots for the long-term trending of monochromatic efficiencies.

The UVES efficiency curve is monitored here.

top Response curves

The UVES pipeline produces response curves from STD calibration frames. Each exposure produces an individual response curve. Under ideal conditions (night is photometric, airmass is low, wide slit) each response curve provides a flux calibration for science data taken at the same setting and slit width.

Realistically, the individual response curves are not always of ideal quality. A careful selection of these curves would yield master response curves of better quality. These curves are created for spcific settings and periods This set can be used for flux calibration of the reduced science data.

Response curves

With the upgrade of one of the red CCDs in 2009 it became obviously wrong to apply the old master reponse curves to the post-2009 UVES data.Unfortunately this was not immediately recognized on the QC side, and therefore the master response curves from 2004 were still applied for flux calibration until October 2011. Apart from the wrong usage of the response curve for the old red CCD, the application of the other two response curves for flux calibration was tolerable since the changes in the response curves are minor and slow.

With the termination of science processing by QC in 2011, the association of the response curves to the science data has been modified:

  • the blue UVES data still get the latest blue response curve (see the blue cascade)
  • the red UVES data get the correct association to the existing old red master response curve if taken before 2009-06-15, and to a proper new one if taken thereafter and if existing (see the red cascade).

If you choose a response curve processed from a recent STD star response (i.e. a single one instead of a master one), be careful to recognize and mask the absorption line signature of the STD spectrum.

Historical response curves

[ Please note that the following data and information is largely heritage information.]

Major events that affected the shape and the level of the historical response curves:

  • The blue filter CUSO4 was replaced at the end of November 2001 (see above).
  • At the end of January 2002, UT2 mirrors M1-M3 have been recoated.
  • Gratings #1B and #4B have replaced gratings #1 and #4 in 2001 and 2000, respectively.
  • Since pipeline version 1.3.3, the optimum extraction algorithm has been changed so that the flux of the extracted spectra is a factor of 1/sqrt(2) lower compared to previous versions. This affects all delivered extracted spectra from Service Mode programmes observed after 2002-07-10. For these spectra, a new set of response curves has been created from standard stars observed after 2002-08-01.
  • The mirrors M1-M3 have been cleaned on 2003-07-06 and recoated early September 2003.
  • The blue CCD has been exchanged on 2004-10-13.
  • The red upper CCD has been exchanged on 2009-07-01.


  • Some response curves have been edited to replace artificial features where the standard stars have strong absorption lines. In the 346 and the 860REDU curves, some points have also been extrapolated in the UV and IR part, respectively, since the flux tables do not extend into these regions.
  • Standard stars are reduced using optimal extraction (see science recipe for details). The resulting master response curves can also be applied to average extraction (including slicer observations).
  • Accurate absolute flux calibration cannot be achieved but relative variations of the response curve can be effectively corrected. For science data reduced in the same way as the standard stars the estimated absolute flux calibration accuracy is perhaps 10% but almost certainly NOT better than this and quite possibly worse due to changes in the optical system (e.g. dust on the mirrors) with time and variations from night to night of the atmosphere itself.
  • In order to make an accurate flux calibration to higher precision than is possible with the master response curves, you need to consider standard stars observed as close as possible in airmass and time (certainly within the same night) as the science and with the same instrument setup as the science, in particular the slit must be the same and normally a 5-10" slit should be used to minimise slit-losses for both science AND standard star.

UVES master response curves
applicable range in time: blue arm red arm
2001-06-01... 2001-09-30 UV_MRSP_010601_BLU.tar n/a
2001-10-01... 2001-11-28
UV_MRSP_011001_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_011001_RED.tar
2001-11-29... 2002-01-31
(blue filter replaced)
after 2002-02-02
(mirror recoating)
UV_MRSP_020202_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_020202_RED.tar
after 2002-08-01
(pipeline V1.3.3)
UV_MRSP_020801_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_020801_RED.tar
before 2003-07-05
UV_MRSP_030501_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_030501_RED.tar
2003-07-06 ... 2003-09-06
(mirror cleaning)
UV_MRSP_030706_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_030706_RED.tar
after 2003-09-19
(mirror recoating)
UV_MRSP_030919_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_030919_RED.tar
before 2004-10-12
(blue CCD exchange)
UV_MRSP_040928_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_040928_RED.tar (564/580/860 settings)
after 2004-10-14
(blue CCD exchange)
UV_MRSP_041130_BLU.tar UV_MRSP_070511_RED.tar (2004-09-28: 564/580/860 settings, 2007-05-11: 760 setting)
after 2009-07-01
(red CCD Upper Chip upgrade)

(lower chip: 2004-09-28: 564/580/860 settings, 2007-05-11: 760 setting)
(upper chip: 2004-09-27: 564/580 2009-07-01: 760/860 settings)

After the red CCD Upper Chip upgrade: the master responses for the 760 and 860 settings have been updated. The 860 curve for the new CCD is a scaled version of the one for the old CCD, the 760 curves are derived from the 860 ones. For the 580 and 564 it was found that the new CCD had no impact within the aimed accuracy.

The master response curves are not updated due to manpower constraints. They are expected to slowly evolve with time but generally are good enough even for later epochs given the intrinsic innacuracies of the flux calibration. The user may prefer to create, from STD star measurements, selected individual response curves around the date of the science observations and apply them for flux calibration. See also the link below.

top Flux calibration

To give an idea about the impact of the flux correction on the large-scale spectral slope, and about the precision that can be achieved, we have prepared a tutorial about flux calibration. Here you can also find a description of how to flux-calibrate your UVES data.

tutorial on flux calibration