task description


This task simulates interferometric or total power MeasurementSets. The general steps for simulation in CASA are described on the top Simulation page. We describe the first two steps in more detail here.

  1. Make a model image or componentlist representation of the sky brightness distribution.
  2. Use the simobserve task to create a MeasurementSet (uv data).

Generating a Model Image

A "model image" is a CASA image or FITS file that contains a representation of the sky brightness distribution, and it represents the object to be "observed" in the simulation. There are several ways to generate a model image.

Starting from an existing FITS image

The simplest option is to begin with an existing FITS image. The image can be either a single plane (i.e., one observed frequency channel) or a cube. A common simulation exercise is to begin with a FITS file representing an observation of a target, then scale the spatial axes and the flux to shift the data to what would be observed for a similar target at a different distance. The simobserve task has parameters to set the peak flux density, coordinates on the sky, pixel size, frequency of the center channel, and channel width.

Starting from a component list

WARNING: simobserve does not currently handle component lists correctly. It is advised to convert the component list to an image or FITS file.

It may be useful to simulate observations of an idealized model image consisting, for example, of point sources and Gaussians. The CASA component list tool (cl) allows the user to specify a set of point sources, Gaussians, disks, and limb-darkened disks. One can then either use that component list directly in simobserve, or create a CASA image from the components, or both. Details can be found in this CASA guide.

Starting from a GIF or JPG image

A user may wish to convert a GIF or JPG image to a FITS file for simulation in CASA. The image should be converted to a 32-bit FITS image for use with the CASA sim tools. See this page for an example of using gimp to convert a JPG image to a FITS file. Alternatively, you could use ImageMagik from the command line, like so:

convert myfile.jpg myfile.fits

Then proceed to trim and convert the file in CASA like so:

default 'immath'
imagename = 'testimage'
expr = 'IM0'
box = '0,0,299,299'
outfile = 'testimage2'

You can use imhead to modify the header parameters of the new image, or you can use the parameters in the simobserve task to modify the peak flux density, coordinates on the sky, pixel size, frequency of the center channel, and channel width. See the discussion below.


Generating visibilities with simobserve

The task simobserve takes several steps to generate observed visibilities. The major steps are:

  • Modify Model: If desired, you can modify the header parameters in your data model to mimic different observing targets. For example, if you start with a model of M100 you might wish to scale the axes to simulate an observation of an M100-like galaxy that is 4X more distant.
  • Set Pointings: If the angular size of your model image is comparable or larger than the 12-m primary beam, you can simulate observing the target as a mosaic. In this step, the individual pointings are determined and saved in a text file. You can also generate such a text file yourself.
  • Generate visibilities: The visibilities are determined based on the telescope and configuration specified, and the length in time of the observation.
  • Finally, noise can be added to the visibilities. The simobserve task uses the aatm atmospheric model (based on Juan Pardo's ATM library) to simulate real observing conditions. It can corrupt the data with thermal noise and atmospheric attenuation. Corruption with an atmospheric phase screen, or adding gain fluctuations or drift, can be added subsequently using the simulator tool sm as described in this CASA guide.

For details, please see the descriptions of the individual parameters below.

WARNING: It is currently not possible to generate a MS in a frame other than J2000 e.g., if you set indirection to "ICRS 19h00m00 -40d00m00" it will silently assume that to actually be "J2000 19h00m00 -40d00m00". The reference frame can be set to ICRS during the imaging or simanalyze process.

NOTE: simobserve calls sm.predict with sm.setvp(dovp=True). This means that the vpmanager will be queried, and a primary beam pattern will be applied, according to the telescope name. One can set the primary beam for the given telescope using the vpmanager. In most circumstances, simobserve will use synthesis gridding (image-plane primary beam application), unless 1) there are more than 1 pointing, AND 2) there are more than one antenna diameter in the configuration file. In that case it will sm.setoptions(ftmachine="mosaic") which enables heterogenous array simulation for ALMA, ACA, and OVRO telescopes. See the sm.setvp method documentation for details.

Task output

 Below is a list of the products produced by the simobserve task. Not all of these will necessarily be produced, depending on input parameters selected.

NOTE: To support different runs with different arrays, the names have the configuration name from antenna list appended.

  • [project].[cfg].skymodel = 4D input sky model image (optionally) scaled
  • [project].[cfg].skymodel.flat.regrid.conv = input sky regridded to match the output image, and convolved with the output clean beam
  • [project].[cfg].skymodel.png = diagnostic figure of sky model with pointings
  • [project].[cfg].ptg.txt = list of mosaic pointings
  • [project].[cfg].quick.psf = psf calculated from uv coverage
  • [project].[cfg].ms = noise-free MeasurementSet
  • [project].[cfg] = corrupted MeasurementSet
  • [project].[cfg].observe.png = diagnostic figure of uv coverage and visibilities
  • [project].[cfg].simobserve.last = saved input parameters for simobserve task


Parameter descriptions


The root filename for all output files. This parameter should be set to the same name as used when running simanalyze or simalma for the directory of results generated.


The input image (used as a model of the sky). simobserve uses a CASA or FITS image. If you merely have a grid of numbers, you will need to write them out as FITS or write a CASA script to read them in and use the ia tool to create an image and insert the data. simobserve does NOT require a coordinate system in the header. If the coordinate information is incomplete, missing, or you would like to override it, set the appropriate "in" parameters.

NOTE: Setting those parameters simply changes the header values, ignoring any values already in the image. No regridding is performed.

You can also manipulate an image header manually with the imhead task. If you have a proper Coordinate System, simobserve will do its best to generate visibilities from that.

skymodel expandable parameters


Scales the model flux densities by setting the peak brightness of the britest pixel in Jy/pixel, or '' for unchanged.

WARNING: 'unchanged' will take the numerical values in your image and assume they are in Jy/pixel, even if it says some other unit in the header.


The central direction to place the sky model image, or '' to use whatever is in the image already.


The spatial pixel size to scale the skymodel image, or '' to use whatever is in the image already.


The frequency to use for the center channel (or only channel, if the skymodel is 2D). Examples: incenter='89GHz', or '' to use what is in the header.


The width of the channels to use, or '' to use what is in the image should be a string representing a quantity with units. Examples: inwidth='10MHz'

NOTE: inwidth only works reliably with frequencies, not velocities.

NOTE 2: It is not possible to change the number of spectral planes of the sky model, only to relabel them with different frequencies. That kind of regridding can be accomplished with the CASA toolkit.



A component list model of the sky, added to or instead of skymodel.

WARNING: simobserve does not currently handle component lists correctly. It is advised to convert the component list to an image or FITS file.

complist expandable parameters


The bandwidth of components; if simulating from components only, this defines the bandwidth of the MS and output images.



If True, simobserve calculates a map of pointings based on a set of sub-parameters and generates a pointing file. If False, it will read the pointings from the parameter ptgfile.

setpointings=True expandable parameters


Sets the time interval for each integration. Also used with setpointings=False. Examples: integration='10s'

NOTE: To simulate a 'scan' longer than one integration, use setpointings to generate a pointing file, and then edit the file to increase the time at each point to be larger than the parameter integration time.


The mosaic center direction. If left unset, simobserve will use the center of the skymodel image. Examples: direction= 'J2000 19h00m00 -40d00m00'; can optionally be a list of pointings, otherwise simobserve will cover a region of size mapsize according to maptype.


The angular size of mosaic map to simulate. Set to '' to cover the model image.


How to calculate the pointings for the mosaic observation. 'hexagonal', 'square' (rectangular raster), 'ALMA' for the same hex algorithm as the ALMA Cycle 1 OT or 'ALMA2012' for the algorithm used in the Cycle 0 OT.


Spacing in between primary beams. "0.25PB" to use 1/4 of the primary beam FWHM, "nyquist" will use $\lambda/d/2$, '' will use $\lambda/d/\sqrt(3)$ for INT, $\lambda/d/3$ for SD.

setpointings=False expandable parameters


A text file specifying directions in the following format, with optional integration times, e.g.,

#Epoch     RA          DEC      TIME(optional)
J2000 23h59m28.10 -019d52m12.35 10.0

If the time column is not present in the file, it will use 'integration' for all pointings.

NOTE: At this time the file should contain only science pointings: simobserve will observe these, then optionally the calibrator, then the list of science pointings again, etc, until totaltime is used up.



Sets the observation mode to calculate visibilities from a skymodel image (which may have been modified above), an optional component list, and a pointing file (which also may have been generated above). This parameter takes two possible values:

  • interferometer (or int)
  • singledish (or sd)

If simulating from a component list, you should specify compwidth, the desired bandwidth. There is not currently a way to specify the spectrum of a component, so simulations from a componentlist only will be continuum (1 chan).

obsmode expandable parameters ('int' or 'sd')


The date of simulated observation. Examples: refdate='2014/05/21'


The hour angle of observation, given as a string of various possible formats. E.g., "-3:00:00", or "5h". The default setting for this parameter is hourangle='transit', which is equivalent to 0h.


The total time of an observation. Examples: totaltime='7200s' or if a number without units, interpreted as the number of times to repeat the mosaic.

obsmode='int' expandable parameters


ASCII file containing antenna positions. Each row has x, y, and z coordinates and antenna diameter and name; header lines are required to specify the observatory name and coordinate system.

# observatory=ALMA
# coordsys=UTM
# datum=WGS84
# zone=19
#x     y    z      diam  name
20.  -20.   28.8   12.0  A12S
20.   20.   28.8   12.0  A12N
-20.  -20.   28.8    7.0  A07S
-20.   20.   28.8    7.0  A07N

Standard array configuration files are found in your CASA data repository, os.getenv("CASAPATH").split()[0]+"/data/alma/simmos/". If antennalist=' ', simobserve will not produce an interferometric MS. A string of the form "alma;0.5arcsec" will be parsed into a full 12m ALMA configuration. 


An unresolved calibrator can be observed interleaved with the science pointings. The calibrator is implemented as a point source clean component with this specified direction and flux=calflux.


Sets the flux density for the calibrator. Default is set to calflux='1Jy'.

obsmode='sd' expandable parameters


Single-dish antenna position file. Default: sdantlist=''


The index of the antenna in the list to use for total power. Defaults to the first antenna on the list (sdant=0).


Adds thermal noise to the synthesized data. This parameter takes two possible values (not including unset ' '):

  • tsys-atm: J. Pardo's ATM library will be used to construct an atmospheric profile for the ALMA site: altitude 5000m, ground pressure 650mbar, relhum=20%, a water layer of user_pwv at altitude of 2km, the sky brightness temperature returned by ATM, and internally tabulated receiver temperatures
  • tsys-manual: instead of using the ATM model, specify the zenith sky brightness and opacity manually. Noise is added and then the visibility flux scale is referenced above the atmosphere. 

In either mode, noise is calculated using an antenna spillover efficiency of 0.96, taper of 0.86, surface accuracy of 25 and 300 microns for ALMA and EVLA respectively (using the Ruze formula for surface efficiency), correlator efficiencies of 0.95 and 0.91 for ALMA and EVLA, receiver temperatures for ALMA of 17, 30, 37, 51, 65, 83,147,196,175,230 K interpolated between 35, 75,110,145,185,230,345,409,675,867 GHz, for EVLA of 500, 70,  60, 55, 100, 130, 350 K interpolated between 0.33,1.47,4.89,8.44,22.5,33.5,43.3 GHz, for SMA of 67, 116, 134, 500 K interpolated between 212.,310.,383.,660. GHz. These are only approximate numbers and do not take into account performance at edges of receiver bands, neither are they guaranteed to reflect the most recent measurements.  Caveat emptor. Use the sm tool to add noise if you want more precise control, and use the ALMA exposure time calculator for sensitivity numbers in proposals.

thermalnoise expandable parameters


The ambient ground/spillover temperature in K.


Random number seed for noise generation.

thermalnoise='tsys-atm' expandable parameters


The precipitable water vapor at zenith if constructing an atmospheric model.

thermalnoise='tsys-manual' expandable parameters


The atmospheric temperature in K.


The zenith opacity at observing frequency. See here for more information on noise, in particular how to add a phase screen using the toolkit.



Adds cross polarization corruption of this fractional magnitude.


View plots on the screen, saved to file, both, or neither.


Turns on or off the printing of extra information to the logger and terminal.


Overwrites existing files in the project subdirectory. Default: False