Spectral Line Configurations

by stephanw — last modified Dec 05, 2013 by Gustaaf Van Moorsel

In semester 2014A observers have access to very flexible subbands using either the 8-bit or the 3-bit samplers.  These capabilities may be summarized as follows:

  • Two 1 GHz baseband pairs using the 8-bit samplers, or four 2 GHz baseband pairs using the 3-bit samplers, independently tunable within the limits outlined in the section on VLA Frequency Bands and Tunability. The 8-bit baseband pairs are referred to as A0/C0 and B0/D0, while the 3-bit samplers are A1/C1, A2/C2, B1/D1, and B2/D2.  The AC/BD nomenclature corresponds to that of the IF pairs in the pre-expansion VLA.
  • Up to 16 subband pairs (spectral windows) in each baseband pair
    • Tuning, bandwidth, number of polarization products, and number of channels can be selected independently for each subband
    • All subbands must share the same integration time
    • No part of a subband can cross a 128 MHz boundary
    • Subband bandwidths can be 128, 64, 32, ..., 0.03125 MHz (128 / 2n, n=0, 1, ..., 12)
  • The sum over subbands of channels times polarization products is limited to 16,384.
    • These may be spread flexibly over subbands and polarization products, in multiples of 64: 64, 128, 192, 256, 384, ..., 16384 cross-correlation products.
    • Assigning many channels to a given subband may reduce the total number of subbands available.

The remainder of this section discusses the various limitations in more detail, including some examples to show how they come up in practice.

Subband tuning restrictions

Each subband may be placed anywhere within a baseband, with the caveat that no subband may cross a 128 MHz boundary. Mathematically:

νBB0 + n*128 MHz <= νsbLow <= νsbHigh <= νBB0 + (n+1)*128 MHz


νBB0 the lower frequency edge of the baseband;
n= 0, 1, ..., 7 (i.e., any integer between 0 and 7);
νsbLow the lower edge of the subband (i.e., the subband center frequency minus half the subband bandwidth);
νsbHigh the upper edge of the subband (i.e., the subband center frequency plus half the subband bandwidth).

So for example, if the baseband were tuned to cover 10000-11024 MHz, one could place a 64 MHz subband to cover 10570-10634 MHz, but not to cover 10600-10664 MHz (because that would cross the 128 MHz boundary at 10640 MHz).

The figure below illustrates these restrictions:

Correlator configuration figure: bandpass8jul12.png

The black curve shows the analog filter response for an 8-bit baseband covering 1024 MHz, starting at νBB0. The dashed blue vertical lines show the 128 MHz boundaries; no subband can cross those boundaries.  128 MHz subbands are thus constrained to cover a region between two of those boundaries, and no finer tuning is possible.  Narrower subbands, like the 64 MHz subband shown here in red, can be shifted around arbitrarily within one of the 128 MHz "slots", but cannot cross any of these boundaries. (The dotted vertical red lines show the boundaries of the 64 MHz subband, while the solid curve shows an illustrative line within the subband.)

The analog filter shape defining the baseband rolls off severely at one edge of the baseband, so the 128 MHz "slot" at that edge has reduced sensitivity.  The baseband edge is at the lowest sky frequency in the baseband when using upper sideband, and at the highest sky frequency in the baseband when using lower sideband.

Subband bandwidths & the digital filter response

The bandwidth for each subband may be selected independently, and can be any of 128/2n MHz, for n= 0, 1, ..., 12: 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, or 1 MHz, or 500, 250, 125, 62.5, or 31.25 kHz.

The usable portion of the subband is set by three effects. First, as discussed above, the analog filters which define the baseband are not perfect, leading to lower sensitivity in the 128 MHz near the baseband edge for the 8-bit samplers

Second, because the digital filters are not infinitely sharp, the rejected sideband leaks in at both edges of the subband. This leads to additional (aliased) noise, with a factor ~2 increase in the noise at the subband edges, dropping to a few per cent within a few per cent of the subband edge. The precise filter shape and noise increase is a complex but predictable function of the subband bandwidth and the subband tuning.

The third effect stems from the offset frequencies used for sideband rejection in the WIDAR correlator. The local oscillators at the individual antennas are tuned to slightly different frequencies, with those offsets taken out in the correlator. This means that each antenna observes a slightly different sky frequency, and thus some baselines will not give an interesting correlation near one edge of the subband. The maximum frequency shift is currently set to 32*f0, with the fundamental f0 being set to f0= max(25.6 kHz*sbBW/128 MHz, 100 Hz). Here sbBW is the smallest subband bandwidth within the baseband. For the wider subband bandwidths the maximum frequency shift corresponds to <1% of that bandwidth, but for narrower subbands the effect can be severe. For instance, a 31.25 kHz subband has f0= 100 Hz, and a maximum frequency shift of 3.2 kHz -- 10% of the subband may be lost on some baselines.

Spectral channels and polarization products

Each subband can have a different number of channels and polarization products, subject to two limitations:

  1. For the ith subband, the number of spectral channels can be:
    • 64 nBlBP,i with full polarization products (RR,RL,LR,LL)
    • 128 nBlBP,i with dual polarization products (RR,LL)
    • 256 nBlBP,i with a single polarization product (RR or LL)
    Here nBlBP,i= 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ..., 64 is the number of Baseline Board Pairs (BlBPs) assigned to that subband.
  2. The sum over all subbands of nBlBP,i must be less than or equal to 64. Equivalently, the sum over all subbands of spectral channels times polarization products is limited to 64x256= 16,384.

Baseline Boards are the boards in the WIDAR correlator where the actual cross-multiplications are done. There are 128 Baseline Boards arranged as 64 Baseline Board pairs (BlBPs).  The limitations given here correspond to the capabilities of the individual boards, and the finite number of boards the correlator has.

Limitation #1 corresponds to the following table of the options for subband bandwidth and spectral resolution when using nBlBP Baseline Board pairs for a subband:

Subband Bandwidth and Spectral Resolution Options
Subband bandwidth &
total velocity coverage
Full polarization products
(RR, RL, LR, LL)
64nBlBP spectral channels

Channel spacing:
Dual polarization products
(RR, LL)
128nBlBP spectral channels
Channel spacing:
Single polarization product
(RR or LL)
256nBlBP spectral channels

Channel spacing:
128 MHz 38400/νGHz km/s 2000/nBlBP kHz 600/nBlBPGHz km/s 1000/nBlBP kHz 300/nBlBPGHz km/s 500/nBlBP kHz 150/nBlBPGHz km/s
64 19200 1000 / nBlBP 300 / nBlBP 500 / nBlBP 150 / nBlBP 250 / nBlBP 75 / nBlBP
32 9600 500 / nBlBP 150 / nBlBP 250 / nBlBP 75 / nBlBP 125 / nBlBP 37.5 / nBlBP
16 4800 250 / nBlBP 75 / nBlBP 125 / nBlBP 37.5 / nBlBP 62.5 / nBlBP 18.75 / nBlBP
8 2400 125 / nBlBP 37.5 / nBlBP 62.5 / nBlBP 18.75 / nBlBP 31.25 / nBlBP 9.375 / nBlBP
4 1200 62.5 / nBlBP 18.75 / nBlBP 31.25 / nBlBP 9.375 / nBlBP 15.625/nBlBP 4.687 /n BlBP
2 600 31.25 / nBlBP 9.375 / nBlBP 15.625/nBlBP 4.687 / nBlBP 7.8125 / nBlBP 2.344 / nBlBP
1 300 15.625/nBlBP 4.687 / nBlBP 7.8125 / nBlBP 2.344 / nBlBP 3.906 / nBlBP 1.172 / nBlBP
0.5 150 7.8125 / nBlBP 2.344 / nBlBP 3.906 / nBlBP 1.172 / nBlBP 1.953 / nBlBP 0.586 / nBlBP
0.25 75 3.906 / nBlBP 1.172 / nBlBP 1.953 / nBlBP 0.586 / nBlBP 0.977 / nBlBP 0.293 / nBlBP
0.125 37.5 1.953 / nBlBP 0.586 / nBlBP 0.977 / nBlBP 0.293 / nBlBP 0.488 / nBlBP 0.146 / nBlBP
18.75 0.977 / nBlBP 0.293 / nBlBP 0.488 / nBlBP 0.146 / nBlBP 0.244 / nBlBP 0.073 / nBlBP
0.03.25 9.375 0.488 / nBlBP 0.146 / nBlBP 0.244 / nBlBP 0.073 / nBlBP 0.122 / nBlBP 0.037 / nBlBP
Subband bandwidth and spectral resolution options. Note that the table entries refer to the spacing between spectral channels -- that spacing is before any frequency smoothing, so these channels are not independent.
  • nBlBP is the number of Baseline Board Pairs assigned to the subband.
  • Each subband may have a different number of spectral channels and polarization products, and each may be tuned independently.
  • There can be at most 16 subbands per baseband, and nBlBP must be an integer: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ..., 64.
  • The sum of nBlBP over all subbands must be less than or equal to 64.
  • Use of more than one BlBP for a subband may further restrict the number of subbands available in one or more of the basebands; see text for details.

Here are four examples of allowed general observing setups which use all 64 BlBPs to produce the maximum number of channels times polarization products:

Baseband Subband





Example 1 A0/C0 sb0 RR 16384 64
Example 2 A0/C0 sb0 RR 8192 32
A0/C0 sb1 RR, LL 1024 8
A0/C0 sb2 RR, LL 512 4
B0/D0 sb0 RR, LL 2048 16
B0/D0 sb1 RR,RL,LR,LL 256 4
Example 3 A0/C0 sb0 RR 8192 32
A0/C0 sb1 LL 1024 4
A0/C0 sb2 RR, LL 1024 8
A0/C0 sb3 RR,RL,LR,LL 1024 16
A0/C0 sb4 RR,RL,LR,LL 256 4
Example 4 A0/C0 sb0-5 RR,RL,LR,LL 64 6 x 1
A0/C0 sb6 RR, LL 3840 1 x 30
A0/C0 sb7 RR 768 1 x 3
A0/C0 sb8 RR,RL,LR,LL 192 1 x 3
B0/D0 sb0-2 RR,RL,LR,LL 64 3 x 1
B0/D0 sb3 LL 768 1 x 3
B0/D0 sb4 RR, LL 2048 1 x 16

Number of subbands and Baseline Board stacking

The number of subbands available in a baseband depends on the correlator resources available.  This means that using Baseline Board stacking to increase the number of channels in one subband, may limit the number of subbands available in one or more of the basebands.  Understanding how this works requires understanding some of the details of the correlator hardware. That understanding is built into the GOST, and observers may simply use that tool to find out whether their particular setup will, in fact, work. But the results can be confusing without some understanding of the hardware constraints from which they arise. These hardware constraints are complex, and most observers will not need to understand these details.  This section is for those few who are attempting complex line experiments, and who find the GOST or the RCT restricting the number of subbands and/or channels they can use in unexpected ways.

First let us consider how the correlator hardware is organized. The cross-multiplications in the WIDAR correlator are spread across 64 Baseline Board (BlB) pairs, arranged into 4 quadrants of 16 BlB pairs each. Each baseband is connected directly to one of those quadrants. In the simplest mode, each of the 16 BlB pairs of a quadrant handles the correlations for one of the 16 subbands of the corresponding baseband. Four basebands and four quadrants are required, in order to handle the full 8 GHz of bandwidth per polarization provided by the 3-bit (wideband) samplers: that 8 GHz is split into four basebands of 2 GHz each, with each baseband fed into a different BlB quadrant. Each BlB pair in that quadrant handles a subband of maximum bandwidth 128 MHz, so 16 BlB pairs handles 16 subbands for a total of 16x128 MHz= 2048 MHz.

A single BlB pair produces 256 cross-correlations per baseline for a single subband, which can be used for a single polarization product (e.g., RR with 256 spectral channels), or two (RR+LL with 128 spectral channels each), or four (RR,RL,LR,LL, with 64 spectral channels each).


When using the 8-bit samplers, the total bandwidth is only 2 GHz per polarization, split into two basebands of 1 GHz each. The simplest continuum setup uses only two quadrants, since there are only two basebands; and only 8 subbands are required to span the 8x128 MHz= 1024 MHz of each baseband. Three-quarters of the correlator BlB hardware remain unused.



The spectral line mode allows access to these `extra' correlator resources through Baseline Board stacking: using multiple BlB pairs to process the same subband and produce more cross-correlations for that subband. This is done using crossbar switches which make the data for a single subband available to several BlB pairs. Those BlB pairs can then be used to produce more spectral channels for that subband, with n BlB pairs producing 256*n cross-correlations per baseline. The limit on the total number of cross-correlations (16384) stems from the total number of BlB pairs (64): 64x256= 16384.

Unfortunately completely flexible crossbar switches are expensive, and could not be implemented in the VLA's new correlator. This means that one cannot route a given subband to a randomly-chosen BlB pair. The routings which are possible, are as follows:

  1. A subband in a baseband can be routed to any BlB pair within the corresponding quadrant.
  2. Data coming into a given BlB pair in one quadrant, can be routed to the corresponding BlB pair in any other quadrant.


Routing option #1 means that one could use all the BlB pairs within a quadrant to correlate a single subband, yielding 16x256= 4096 cross-correlations for that subband:


Routing option #2 means that one could use the BlB pairs in all 4 quadrants to correlate a single subband. One simple case would use 4 BlB pairs to correlate each of the 16 subbands in a single baseband, yielding 4x256= 1024 cross-correlations for each of those subbands. Note that in this case, no BlB pairs are left to correlate any data from the second baseband.

Using routing option #2 does come with a subtle cost: assigning a BlB pair in quadrant X to correlate a subband corresponding to quadrant Y, removes that BlB pair from use in the baseband corresponding to quadrant X...and hence also removes the corresponding subband in that baseband. So getting more channels for a subband in one baseband, may prevent the use of a subband in a different baseband. To take a simple example, consider an experiment where one wishes to observe a single line in dual polarization with 512 channels (requiring 4 BlB pairs), plus as much continuum bandwidth as possible. Naively one would say there are 16 subbands in each baseband; one is used for the spectral line, so that leaves 16+15= 31 subbands, and with the widest subband bandwidth (128 MHz) the total available continuum should be 31x128 MHz= 3968 MHz per polarization. Actually however there are only 15+15 subbands available, or 30x128 MHz= 3840 MHz per polarization, because the spectral line subband has "eaten" one BlB pair corresponding to the other baseband:


If the same spectral line required twice as many channels, this result in the loss of two subbands in both of the basebands:

In some cases one may want to use a different routing, to use up subbands in one baseband in preference to another. For instance, the same spectral line setup (2048 cross-correlations for a single spectral line subband, plus as much continuum as possible) could be set up to allow 13 "continuum" subbands in the A0/C0 baseband, and the full 16 "continuum" subbands in B0/D0:

Understanding these confusing constraints can help observers set up the VLA more effectively to achieve their scientific goals. For instance, for a mixed line+continuum experiment it works best to use the resource tools to set up the baseband tunings and subband channelization for the most important lines first, then add the desired continuum, and then see what correlator resources remain for any lines of secondary interest.

The above examples all use BlB pair stacking in powers of 2, but this is not required.  To give some idea of more complex possibilities, the following tables give two examples of other possible configurations. The SRCT display shows how the Baseline Boards are used to process the individual subbands. The cyan boxes show the Baseline Boards used to process data from baseband A0/C0, while the yellow boxes show Baseline Boards used to process data from baseband B0/D0.

Complex Configuration Example #1
BasebandSubbandPol'n products Spectral channelsnBlBP
A0/C0 sb0 RR 10240 40
A0/C0 sb1 LL 768 3
A0/C0 sb2 RR,LL 2176 17
B0/D0 sb0 RR 256 1
B0/D0 sb1 RR,LL 384 3
SRCT display: corr-cfg-fig:sro1_8bit_ac40+3+17_bd1+3




Complex Configuration Example #2
BasebandSubbandPol'n products Spectral channelsnBlBP
A0/C0 sb0 RR 4352 17
A0/C0 sb1 RR, LL 1152 9
B0/D0 sb0 RR,RL,LR,LL 192 3
B0/D0 sb1 RR, LL
4480 35
SRCT display: corr-cfg-fig:sro2_8bit_ac17+9_bd3+35


Note that the individual subbands can have different bandwidths, and those bandwidths may be chosen completely independently of the number of spectral channels in each subband. So for instance a subband with bandwidth 2 MHz and 1152 spectral channels would have a channel separation of 2 MHz/1152= 1.736 kHz; but the observer could equally well choose a bandwidth of 64 MHz for that subband, leading  to a channel separation of 64 MHz/1152=  55.56 kHz.

Use of the 3-bit samplers further extends the possibilities.  Here is one example:

3-bit Complex Configuration Example #1
BasebandSubbandPol'n products Spectral channelsnBlBP
A1/C1 sb0-8 RR, LL, RL, LR 9 x 64
9 x 1
A1/C1 sb9 RR, LL 1 x 1152 1 x 9
A1/C1 sb10 RR 1 x 1792
1 x 7
A1/C1 sb11 RR, LL 1 x 384
1 x 3
A2/C2 sb0-11 RR, LL, RL, LR 12 x 64 12 x 1
A2/C2 sb12 LL 1 x 768 1 x 3
B1/D1 sb0-3 RR, LL, RL, LR 4 x 64
4 x 1
B1/D1 sb4 RR, LL, RL, LR 1 x 320
1 x 5
B2/D2 sb0-6 RR, LL, RL, LR 7 x 64 7 x 1
B2/D2 sb7 RR, LL 1 x 640 1 x 5
SRCT display: corr-cfg-fig:sro1_8bit_ac40+3+17_bd1+3


Once again, the GOST implements all of these constraints, and is generally smart enough to figure out the routing scheme that works best for your particular request.