Polarization

by Stephan W. Witz last modified Jun 22, 2017 by Emmanuel Momjian

For projects requiring imaging in Stokes Q and U, the instrumental polarization should be determined through observations of a bright calibrator source spread over a range in parallactic angle or a single observation of an unpolarized source. The complex gain calibrator chosen for the observations can also double as a polarization calibrator, provided it is at a declination where it moves through enough parallactic angle during the observation (roughly Dec 15–50 degrees during a several hour track).

The minimum condition that will enable accurate polarization calibration from a polarized source, in particular with unknown polarization, is three observations of a bright source spanning at least 60 degrees in parallactic angle (schedule four scans, if possible, in case one is lost); if at all possible, it is strongly recommended that five or more observations covering 100 degrees (or more) of parallactic angle in roughly uniform steps be run. If a bright, unpolarized, unresolved source is available, and known to have very low polarization, then a single scan will suffice to determine the leakage terms. The accuracy of polarization calibration is generally better than 0.5% for small objects as compared to the antenna beam size. At least one observation of 3C286 or 3C138 is required to fix the absolute position angle of polarized emission; 3C48 can be used at frequencies of ~3 GHz and higher, or 3C147 at frequencies over ~10 GHz. Note that 3C138 is variable—the polarization properties are known to be changing significantly over time, most notably at the higher frequencies (for details see Perley and Butler (2013b)).

More information on polarization calibration strategy can be found in the Polarimetry section in the Guide to Observing with the VLA.