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I'm reading a paper about a recent x-ray burst from a suspected magnetar (A. Dai et al 2016) where they show a light curve of a burst that lasted about 10ms. (Their figure 1). The value of count rate for the peak of the burst from the graph is $6\text{ counts/s}$ over a timespan of less than $0.01s$. This corresponds to about $6*0.01=0.06 \text{ counts}$ for that time period. What does this mean? Is it not counts of photons? What is 0.06 photons? Is there a step in the data analysis I'm missing?

Swift/BAT mask-weighted light curves in different energy bands (Fig. 1 Swift/BAT mask-weighted light curves in different energy bands)

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  • $\begingroup$ An average rate in counts per second hardly needs to be integral! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft I don't follow, how do you mean? $\endgroup$
    – zeitoon
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ Try it: take 100 random integer samples and calculate the mean value. Odds are it'll be a non-integer value. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ Oh yes, I understand that, but my problem with 0.06 counts isn't that it's non-integer but that it's less than 1. If less than a single photon was detected in some 2ms time bin what was actually detected? Rob's answer below helped me answer that. When you said "integral" I thought "sum over total time span" rather than "integer" $\endgroup$
    – zeitoon
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 19:55

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I think there is a missing piece of information. The BAT is a coded mask telescope. The imaging is done by photons passing through a mask and falling onto an array of 32768 detectors. http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov/about_swift/bat_desc.html

The "mask-weighted" light curve is produced after a complex ray tracing exercise using an estimate of the position of the source. Looking at some of the software specifications (eg https://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/ftools/caldb/help/batmasktaglc.html ) it seems that the count rate is divided by the number of active detectors.

So in this case it looks like the detection rate was more like 200,000 counts/s in the peak 2ms of the event. There would be 400 detected counts, assuming there are no other corrections for sensitivity or vignetting. However, I think there probably are - the mask must take out about 50% of these counts and there are gaps between the detectors. A background rate has also been subtracted. So overall I guess that the first point in the burst is due to around 100 detected photons, and so on.

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