Synthetic Photometry for HST/JWST (stsynphot)


stsynphot is an extension to synphot (Lim et al. 2016) that implements synthetic photometry package for HST (and soon JWST) support. The documentation in this package is meant to complement that of synphot, which already documents the non-observatory specific functionalities. It is recommended that you read both for full understanding of its capabilities.

This package, in particular, allows you to:

  • Construct spectra from various grids of model atmosphere spectra, parameterized spectrum models, and atlases of stellar spectrophotometry.

  • Simulate observations specific to HST (and soon JWST).

  • Compute photometric calibration parameters for any supported instrument mode.

  • Plot instrument-specific sensitivity curves and calibration target spectra.

Like ASTROLIB PYSYNPHOT (Lim et al. 2015), stsynphot can help HST (and soon JWST) observers to perform cross-instrument simulations and examine the transmission curve of the Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA) and spectra of calibration targets.

If you use stsynphot in your work, please cite it as, CITATION for details on how to cite it in your publications.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the software, please open an issue at (if not already reported) or contact STScI Help Desk.

Installation and Setup

stsynphot works for Python 3.6 or later only. It requires the following packages:

  • numpy

  • astropy

  • scipy

  • synphot

  • beautifulsoup4

  • matplotlib (optional for plotting)

You can install stsynphot using one of the following ways:

  • From AstroConda:

    conda install stsynphot -c
  • From conda-forge channel:

    conda install stsynphot -c conda-forge
  • From standalone release:

    pip install stsynphot
  • From source (example shown is for the dev version):

    git clone
    cd stsynphot_refactor
    pip install -e .

As with ASTROLIB PYSYNPHOT, the data files for stsynphot are distributed separately by Calibration Reference Data System. They are expected to follow a certain directory structure under the root directory, identified by the PYSYN_CDBS environment variable that must be set prior to using this package. In the examples below, the root directory is arbitrarily named /my/local/dir/cdbs/.

In bash shell:

export PYSYN_CDBS=/my/local/dir/cdbs/

In csh shell:

setenv PYSYN_CDBS /my/local/dir/cdbs/

Below are the instructions to install:

To ensure consistency for all data files used, stsynphot silently overwrites synphot data file locations within the Python session. For example:

>>> from synphot.config import conf as syn_conf
>>> print(syn_conf.johnson_v_file)
>>> from stsynphot.config import conf
>>> print(conf.rootdir)  
>>> print(syn_conf.johnson_v_file)  

You can also take advantage of Astropy configuration system to manage stsynphot configuration and data files. For example, you can copy stsynphot.cfg to your $HOME/.astropy/config/ directory and modify it to your needs:

# This replaces the need to set PYSYN_CDBS environment variable
rootdir = /my/local/dir/cdbs/
# This pins lookup tables to a specific files
graphtable = /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/07r1502mm_tmg.fits
comptable = /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/07r1502nm_tmc.fits
thermtable = /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/tae17277m_tmt.fits
# JWST primary mirror collecting area in cm^2
area = 331830.72404


In theory, you can use any astropy.config functionality (e.g. set_temp()) to manage stsynphot configuration items. However, due to the complicated relationships between instrument-specific data files, it is not recommended unless you know what you are doing. Also see Reference Data.

Getting Started

This section only contains minimal examples showing how to use this package. For detailed documentation, see Using stsynphot. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with basic synphot functionality first before proceeding.

Display the current settings for graph and component tables, telescope area (in squared centimeter), and default wavelength set (in Angstrom):

>>> import stsynphot as stsyn
>>> stsyn.showref()  
graphtable: /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/07r1502mm_tmg.fits
comptable : /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/07r1502nm_tmc.fits
thermtable: /my/local/dir/cdbs/mtab/tae17277m_tmt.fits
area      : 45238.93416
waveset   : Min: 500, Max: 26000, Num: 10000, Delta: None, Log: True

Note that stsynphot also overwrites synphot file locations for consistency, as stated in Installation and Setup (the double slash in path name does not affect software operation):

>>> import synphot
>>> synphot.conf.vega_file  

Plot the built-in Vega spectrum, which is used to compute VEGAMAG. This is pre-loaded at start-up for convenience:

>>> from synphot import units
>>> stsyn.Vega.plot(
...     right=20000, flux_unit=units.FLAM,
...     title='Vega spectrum')  
Vega spectrum.

Construct a bandpass for HST/ACS camera using WFC1 detector and F555W filter; Then, show all the individual throughput files used in its construction:

>>> bp ='acs,wfc1,f555w')  
>>> bp.showfiles()  
INFO: #Throughput table names:
/my/local/dir/cdbs/comp/acs/acs_wfc_ccd1_mjd_021_syn.fits [...]

Construct a source spectrum from Kurucz 1993 Atlas of Model Atmospheres for a star with blackbody temperature of 5770 Kelvin, at solar metallicity, and log surface gravity of 4.5, renormalized to 20 VEGAMAG in Johnson V filter, using IRAF SYNPHOT syntax:

>>> sp = stsyn.parse_spec(
...     'rn(icat(k93models,5770,0.0,4.5),band(johnson,v),20,vegamag)')  

Construct an extinction curve for Milky Way (diffuse) with \(E(B-V)\) of 0.7 mag. Then, apply the extinction to the source spectrum from before:

>>> ext = stsyn.ebmvx('mwavg', 0.7)  
>>> sp_ext = sp * ext  

Construct an observation using the ACS bandpass and the extincted source spectrum. (For accurate detector binning, you can pass in the binned wavelength centers into binset. In this case, the bin centers for that particular observation mode is stored in bp.binset.) Then, compute the count rate for HST collecting area:

>>> from synphot import Observation
>>> obs = Observation(sp_ext, bp, binset=bp.binset)  
>>> obs.countrate(area=stsyn.config.conf.area)  
<Quantity 23.839134880103543 ct / s>

To find out exactly how bp.binset was computed, you can use the following command, which states that the information for this particular ACS observation mode in use is stored in wavecats/acs.dat in the stsynphot software data directory (synphot$, which is named so for backward compatibility with ASTROLIB PYSYNPHOT):

>>> from stsynphot import wavetable
>>> wavetable.WAVECAT['acs,wfc1,f555w']

Calculate thermal background for a HST/WFC3 bandpass for its IR detector using F110W filter:

>>> wfc3 ='wfc3,ir,f110w')  
>>> wfc3.thermback()  
<Quantity 0.051636304994833425 ct / (pix s)>


stsynphot.catalog Module

This module handles catalog spectra.



Empty the catalog grid cache.


Extract catalog index (grid parameters).

grid_to_spec(gridname, t_eff, metallicity, log_g)

Extract spectrum from given catalog grid parameters.


Find valid log_g values in the Phoenix catalog.


Visualize the Phoenix catalog index (grid parameters).

stsynphot.config Module

stsynphot configurable items.

The default configuration heavily depends on STScI CDBS structure but it can be easily re-configured as the user wishes via astropy.config.

PYSYN_CDBS must be a defined system environment variable for directories to be configured properly. It also overwrites synphot configurable items.



Return current values of select configurable items as a dictionary.


Show the values of select configurable items.


Silently overwrite synphot configurable items to point to given root directory.

stsynphot.exceptions Module

Custom exceptions for stsynphot to raise.



Exceptions for language parser.


SPARK AST traversal pruning exception.


Exceptions for catalog problems.


Exceptions to do with graph table traversal.


Unused keyword is not allowed in graph table.


Incomplete observation mode is not allowed in graph table.


Ambiguous observation mode is not allowed in graph table.

Class Inheritance Diagram

Inheritance diagram of stsynphot.exceptions.ParserError, stsynphot.exceptions.GenericASTTraversalPruningException, stsynphot.exceptions.ParameterOutOfBounds, stsynphot.exceptions.GraphtabError, stsynphot.exceptions.UnusedKeyword, stsynphot.exceptions.IncompleteObsmode, stsynphot.exceptions.AmbiguousObsmode

stsynphot.observationmode Module

Module to handle observations based on observation modes.



Empty the table dictionaries cache.


Component(throughput_name[, interpval])

Class to handle individual components in BaseObservationMode.

ThermalComponent(throughput_name, thermal_name)

Class to handle thermal components in BaseObservationMode.

BaseObservationMode(obsmode[, graphtable, …])

Base class to handle an observation that uses the graph and optical component tables, common to both optical and thermal observation modes.

ObservationMode(obsmode[, graphtable, …])

Class to handle an observation that uses the graph and optical component tables.

ThermalObservationMode(obsmode[, …])

Class to handle an observation that uses the graph, optical component, and thermal component tables.

Class Inheritance Diagram

Inheritance diagram of stsynphot.observationmode.Component, stsynphot.observationmode.ThermalComponent, stsynphot.observationmode.BaseObservationMode, stsynphot.observationmode.ObservationMode, stsynphot.observationmode.ThermalObservationMode

stsynphot.spectrum Module

This module contains spectrum classes specific to STScI formats.



Empty the reddening laws cache.

interpolate_spectral_element(parfilename, …)

Interpolate (or extrapolate) throughput spectra in given parameterized FITS table to given parameter value.

band(\*args, \*\*kwargs)

Convenience function to create a bandpass with an observation mode string.

ebmvx(redlaw_name, ebv)

Convenience function to create extinction curve for given reddening law and \(E(B-V)\).


Convenience function to load Vega spectrum that is used throughout stsynphot.


ObservationSpectralElement(modelclass[, obsmode])

Class to handle bandpass from observation mode.

Class Inheritance Diagram

Inheritance diagram of stsynphot.spectrum.ObservationSpectralElement

stsynphot.stio Module

This module handles stsynphot-specific I/O for:


resolve_filename(path, \*args)

Resolve filename that could be URL or local file.

irafconvert(iraf_filename[, sep])

Convert IRAF filename to regular filename.

get_latest_file(template[, raise_error, err_msg])

Find the filename that appears last in sorted order based on given template.

read_graphtable(filename[, tab_ext])

Read graph table file.

read_comptable(filename[, tab_ext])

Read component table file (regular or thermal).

read_catalog(filename[, tab_ext])

Read catalog grid look-up table.


Read wavelength catalog from ASCII file.

read_waveset(filename[, wave_unit])

Read wavelength table from ASCII file.


Read detector parameters from ASCII file.

read_interp_spec(filename[, tab_ext])

Read parameterized (interpolate-able) throughput spectra from FITS table.

stsynphot.tables Module

This module handles graph and component (optical or thermal) tables.


GraphTable(graphfile[, ext])

Class to handle graph table.

CompTable(compfile[, ext])

Class to handle component table (optical or thermal).

stsynphot.wavetable Module

Module to handle stsynphot.config.conf.wavecatfile table, which is used by ETC to select an appropriate wavelength set for a given observation mode for count rate calculations.



Convenience function to update stsynphot.wavetable.WAVECAT global variable with the latest stsynphot.config.conf.wavecatfile.


WaveCatalog(fname[, wave_unit])

Class to handle stsynphot.config.conf.wavecatfile initialization and access.


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