Preparing an AAOmega proposal

This page contains the information necessary to prepare an observing proposal for the AAOmega spectrograph. This includes information on the AAOmega gratings, the Integration Time Calculator and information on the AAOmega detectors.

Click here to apply for AAT time with AAOmega.


AAOmega is a dual-beam spectrograph. The slit units (one for each field plate) which each contain 392 science fibres are fed into a single collimator and then separate into the Blue and Red arms of the system via a dichroic beam splitter. There are two dichroics, one operates at 570nm and one at 670nm. Each arm of AAOmega uses a separate Volume Phase Holographic grating (VPH).


Selecting an AAOmega setup

At the lowest resolution AAOmega can be configured to observe the entire optical spectrum over the wavelength range 370nm-900nm, with a small overlap between the red and blue arms around the dichroic wavelength (570 or 670nm). Changing the gratings allows a range of resolutions up to R~10,000, with correspondingly shorter wavelength coverage. The fibre spectra are recorded onto the 2Kx4K E2V CCDs with light dispersed along the 2K axis NOT the the 4K axis.

The full list of gratings can be found in the table below. There is also a grating calculator to assist with the choice.

The AAOmega grating set 

Grating Blaze Useful wavelengths Coverage
(single shot)
Angle Dispersion MOS Resolution*
  nm nm nm Degrees nm/pix R
580V 450 370 to 580 210 8 0.1 1300
385R 700 560 to 880 320 8 0.16 1300
1700B 400 370 to 450 65 18 0.033 3500
1500V 475 425 to 600 75 20 - 25 0.037 3700
1000R 675 550 to 800 110 18 - 22.5 0.057 3400
1000I 875 800 to 950 110 22.5 - 25 0.057 4400
3200B 400 360 to 450 25 37.5 - 45 0.014 8000
2500V 500 450 to 580 35 37.5 - 45 0.018 8000
2000R 650 580 to 725 45 37.5 - 45 0.023 8000
1700I* 750 725 to 850 50 37.5 - 45 0.028 8000

* For high resolutions observations in the CaIII region, 1700D is the appropriate grating. The table above shows information at the central super blaze grating wavelength. For CaIII observations, 1700I does not have an increased coverage over 1700D. Wavelength dependent resolution is a property of the VPH gratings.

Considerations in set-up selection

  1. Grating changes will not be performed during the night, only during the afternoon. Wavelength changes can be performed during the night, but there is an overhead.

  2. Where possible, the blue arm of the system should be set to allow the strong 557.7nm skyline to fall within the observed spectral range. This will allow sky subtraction and fibre throughput calibration without the need for twilight flat fields or dedicated offset sky frames.

  3. It is not required to have the two arms of the system overlapping in wavelength. However, leaving some overlap allows the spectra to be spliced together.

  4. Spectral curvature. As with all spectrographs, the spectra follow curved paths on the CCDs and wavelength is not a constant function of X-pixel position between fibres. At low resolution this is barely noticed. However, at higher spectral resolutions there is a small mismatch between the observed wavelength of the central and outer fibres.

  5. Departures from the standard default values for each grating are acceptable.

  6. Blaze angle. The collimator-to-VPH and VPH-to-camera angles are typically set to be equal. This gives the peak system throughput at the central wavelength, with a slow role off to shorter and longer wavelengths. For certain applications, one may wish to operate with an asymmetry in these angles which will boost the system sensitivity at shorter/longer wavelengths, but at the expense of sensitivity at longer/shorter wavelengths. Read the notes below, or call your support astronomer for a discussion of this very important concept which is specific to VPH gratings.

  7. Due to the long fibre run (38m prime focus to Coude West) and the optics of the 2dF prime focus corrector, the system throughput below 370nm is very poor and there is little point attempting to observe at shorter wavelengths.

  8. High resolution CaIII observations. The 1700D grating is specifically designed for observation of the CaIII lines at ~860nm. It gives a better response at this wavelength than the 1700I grating. However, it cannot be used at any other central wavelength. When observing the CaIII there is no advantage to observing with the 1700I grating over 1700D. If one wishes to observe at high resolution at red wavelength, but away from CaIII, then 1700I must be used.

  9. For Service Applications consider the use of standard grating configurations as the probability of service observations being successfully undertaken is significantly higher for these settings

  10. Ghost reflections: Like all diffraction gratings, the VPH gratings do induce some artifacts in the observed spectra. The dominant artifact is a prominent ghost reflection (essentially an out of focus 0th order image of the slit). The gratings are designed to throw the ghost out of the field of view for the most commonly used wavelength setups. For more unusual settings the user MUST visually check an arc frame to ensure that there are no ghost images that would damage critical wavelength ranges.

Grating Efficiencies

Preliminary efficiency curves for the AAOmega gratings are available here. All measurements were taken prior to AR coating, so all quoted efficiencies should be increased by a factor 1.08. All curves are approximate, with a 25mm aperture used to test the efficiencies. The different curves for each grating correspond to different grating angles; users can select whatever grating angle is most suitable for their observations. Note that the test may have been done with the grating (and hence slant angle) reversed with respect to the grating calculator. Note that altering the grating angle also has a 2nd-order effect on resolution and wavelength coverage; this becomes significant at high dispersion.

Low resolution Medium resolution High resolution
1500V (note angles +90deg)

Blaze Angles for VPH gratings

AAOmega uses Volume-Phase Holographic (VPH) transmission gratings. These have flexible blaze angles. Each grating has a specific design blaze angle which will give the absolute maximum efficiency with that grating (the super blaze). This peak efficiency reduces smoothly with wavelength away from that. The usual setup for most programs is therefore to have the grating set at its super blaze angle and the camera at twice this angle to centre the maximum efficiency wavelength on the CCD. The complication comes when the observer wishes to observe at a central wavelength which is some distance away from the super blaze angle for the grating. This would mean observing with the grating and camera angles highly asymmetric, and therefore operating on the low efficiency (and rapidly falling) part of the blaze envelope for the grating. The solution is to tune the grating and camera angles to new values. This shift in the grating angle will shift the blaze profile away from the super blaze, flattening the steep wings of the super blaze envelope and boosting system performance at the desired wavelength(s), with the expense of a slight reduction in overall peak performance in comparison to the super blaze setting.

Each arm of the AAOmega system is equipped with a 2kx4k E2V CCD detector and an AAO2 CCD controller. A new blue-sensitive, standard silicon, CCD was installed in March 2014. The red arm CCD is currently a low fringing type and will be replaced by a new bulk silicon, multi-layer coated device in late 2014. Both CCDs can be driven in a charge shuffling mode.

CCD operational information is listed below. Some important considerations in planning AAOmega observations are:

  1. Single amplifier (right amp.) is currently the default mode of operation, pending full commissioning of the dual readout mode.

  2. In the blue, and particularly at high resolution or during dark of moon, observations can become read noise limited if integrations are short. Hence longer exposures may be required and the slower read-out modes should be considered.

  3. Following the installation of the new blue CCD, the detector can be dark current-limited for integations longer than 40 minutes.  Dark frames are provided to subtract this current.
  4. Saturation changes with the changes in gain encountered in different readout modes. In the high gain (faster readout) modes saturation occurs somewhat below ~65,000 counts.

  5. Ultrafast mode is very noisy, due to the high readout rate, but it is believed to produce valid observations. While further study of this mode is still required, programs that could utilize such a rapid read-speeds should discuss the options with AAOmega support staff in advance of proposal preparation.

  6. The CCDs can be windowed to reduce readout times, broadly in proportion to the size of the reduced window. Note that unused pixels will generally still need to be clocked through the CCD, although this rate is faster than the digitization speeds given below.

Parameters for the AAOmega Blue E2V CCD (November 2013)

Dark 2.0 e/pix/hr

      Left Amp     Right Amp  
  Read time   Gain Read Noise   Gain Read Noise
  Sec   e/ADU e   e/ADU e
Ultrafast 21   4.7 8.84   4.73 8.46
Fast 75   2.86 5.03   2.84 4.93
Normal 111   1.9 3.7   1.88 3.61
Slow 145   1.2 3.03   1.17 3.03
Xtraslow 403   0.29 2.33   0.29 2.3

Parameters for the AAOmega Red E2V CCD

Dark 1.01 e/pix/hr (after post power up stabilisation, 4hr)

      Left Amp     Right Amp  
  Read time   Gain Read Noise   Gain Read Noise
  Sec   e/ADU e   e/ADU e
Ultrafast 21   4.541 7.22   4.6 7.0
Fast 75   2.708 4.68   2.803 4.53
Normal 120   1.788 3.76   1.799 3.49
Slow 145   1.098 2.83   1.119 2.62
Xtraslow 403   0.277 2.36   0.272 2.02