A CCD based camera for digital imaging of the nightglow
This thesis deals with the development of a microprocessor controlled CCD based camera for digital imaging of the nightglow. A brief description of the techniques used to image the nightglow is given and the reasons for choosing a CCD as the detector are discussed. The fundamentals of CCD operation are then described with particular emphasis on buried channel CCD image sensors as the P8603 CCD used in the camera is of this type. A major part of the thesis is devoted to the detailed design of the camera electronics which consists of three main sections; (i) a MC6802 based microprocessor controller with 4 K of ROM and 64 K of dynamic RAM; (ii) a display interface which allows an on-line display of the images to be produced on an oscilloscope for monitoring purposes while observing; and (iii) the CCD interface which consists of the drive pulse buffers for the image, store and readout sections of the CCD, the bias voltage generators for the CCD on-chip charge amplifier, and the signal processing electronics which has a choice of four software selectable gains and uses correlated double sampling to achieve low noise levels. The design of a digital cassette system for recording the image data is also described. The system, which is based on a low cost stereo cassette recorder, accepts and produces data in the same RS232 serial format used by the camera and is capable of operating at up to 9600 baud on two channels. A further section deals with the optical, structural and cryogenic design. This includes a description of the camera optical system which is based on a commercial FI.4 CCTV lens, theoretical calculations of the expected response of the camera to a range of nightglow emissions, the design of the liquid nitrogen cryostat which is used to cool the CCD, the design of the camera chassis, and calculations to determine (i) the CCD temperature required to reduce the dark current to an acceptable level; and (ii) the capacity of the liquid nitrogen reservoir which is necessary to allow a whole night's observing without refilling. The detailed operation of the camera control program, which is written in 6800 assembly language, is then described with the aid of flowcharts. Currently the control program is set up to give a one minute integration period using half-frame imaging and a 3 x 2 pixel amalgamation. The final section of the thesis deals with the testing and performance of the camera. Several experiments were carried out including the measurement of the various possible ampilifier gains, the noise performance of the system, the angular response of the camera optics, and the calibration of the camera using a standard light to allow the absolute intensity of nightglow emissions to be calculated. Theoretical calculations of the expected noise levels and the expected response of the camera to the standard light are also included. A suite of image processing programs, written in Pascal for an Apple II microcomputer, are then described. These programs allow various operations to be performed such as scanning the images stored on tape, and correcting for the defective columns on the CCD and the angular response of the camera optics. Lastly, the performance of the camera in the field is discussed and the results of observations made locally, which include photographs of images believed to show hydroxyl airglow structure, are presented.