Assessment of systematic chromatic errors that impact sub-1% photometric precision in large-area sky surveys

Dark Energy Survey Collaboration

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Meeting the science goals for many current and future ground-based optical large-area sky surveys requires that the calibrated broadband photometry is stable in time and uniform over the sky to 1% precision or better. Past surveys have achieved photometric precision of 1-2% by calibrating the survey's stellar photometry with repeated measurements of a large number of stars observed in multiple epochs. The calibration techniques employed by these surveys only consider the relative frame-by-frame photometric zeropoint offset and the focal plane position-dependent illumination corrections, which are independent of the source color. However, variations in the wavelength dependence of the atmospheric transmission and the instrumental throughput induce source color-dependent systematic errors. These systematic errors must also be considered to achieve the most precise photometric measurements. In this paper, we examine such systematic chromatic errors using photometry from the Dark Energy Survey (DES) as an example. We define a natural magnitude system for DES and calculate the systematic errors on stellar magnitudes, when the atmospheric transmission and instrumental throughput deviate from the natural system. We conclude that the systematic chromatic errors caused by the change of airmass in each exposure, the change of the precipitable water vapor and aerosol in the atmosphere over time, and the non-uniformity of instrumental throughput over the focal plane, can be up to 2% in some bandpasses. We compare the calculated systematic chromatic errors with the observed DES data. For the test sample data, we correct these errors using measurements of the atmospheric transmission and instrumental throughput. The residual after correction is less than 0.3%. We also find that the errors for non-stellar objects are redshift-dependent and can be larger than those for stars at certain redshifts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Astronomical Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2016


  • astro-ph.IM
  • atmospheric effects
  • methods: observational
  • surveys
  • techniques: photometric
  • RCUK
  • STFC


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