The Optical Spectroscopy Pipeline

Introduction and Resources

The SDSS Early Data Release (EDR) paper is the original resource for understanding the processing and data products from the SDSS, describing the pipelines and contents of generated data products. Successive data release papers: DR1, DR2, DR3, DR4, DR5, DR6, DR7DR8, DR9, DR10,DR11 and DR12
describe changes between data releases. Pipeline changes for DR13 will be fully described in the DR13 paper, and are also summarized immediately below. The technical summary paper provides more general information on the SDSS-I survey, the SDSS-III summary paper provides general information on SDSS-III, the BOSS overview paper provides general information for BOSS, the eBOSS overview paper also describes SEQUELS, and the 1D pipeline paper describes redshift measurement and classification. The algorithms page includes links to pages describing algorithms used by the spectroscopic data-reduction pipelines. This page provides a summary of those steps and the associated output files.

Most of the spectroscopic catalog data (but not the spectra themselves) have been loaded into the Catalog Archive Server (CAS) database. Depending on the scientific use case, users may be better off obtaining SDSS data through a carefully constructed CAS query rather than by downloading the data files from the SAS. Simple queries can be used to select just the objects and parameters of interest, while more complex queries can be used to do complex calculations on many objects, thereby avoiding the need to download the data on them at all.

The remainder of this page gives a short description of pipeline changes for DR13, a brief overview of spectroscopic data processing, and sections that describe the steps of data processing in detail. In addition to the descriptions, each section provides references to papers that give additional details, and a table of the files associated with that step of the pipeline that can be found in the SAS. These tables include links to the file format documentation (the “data model”) and templates which can be used to generate SAS URLs for those files. The templates are in “C printf” format, and can be used in C, bash, Python, and many other languages to automatically generate URLs.

Changes for DR13

  • Unbiased extraction of raw counts from CCD: the previous extraction method was biased in the few counts limit. The improved extraction uses an almost constant weighting scheme. The sky-subtraction and some steps of calibration are now also performed using signal independent weights. The amount of residual sky flux in each spectrum is significantly reduced.
  • Extraction errors are now correctly propagated to final flux error estimates: this implies an average increase in 5% in the error estimates of flux. The impact on spectral classification is negligible.
  • Flux calibration for quasars is improved as a post-processing correction. Most quasar fibers were placed in the focal plane such that the light is optimized at 4000 Angstroms instead of 5400 Angstroms for standard stars. The calibration was therefore wrong for these quasars. Margala et al. 2015 computed throughput corrections for these offset targets based on the altitude, observing time, seeing, etc. In DR13, these corrections are included as an additional field in the individual spectrum files but not for the standard spCFrame spectra or the spPlate coadds.
  • New r1 CCD installed during summer 2014. The gain values were computed and updated.

Even though eBOSS is a different survey than BOSS, it uses the same instrument and has similar data as BOSS. Starting with DR13, all eBOSS data releases will contain all BOSS data reprocessed using the latest eBOSS pipeline. The BOSS plates are treated identically as the eBOSS plates. The reprocessing consists of raw CCD count extraction, sky subtraction, flux calibration, wavelength solution, psf estimates, and the spectral classification (galaxy, quasar or star). We may eventually preprocess the classification and redshift fitting of SDSS-I/-II data, but we do not anticipate rerunning the low level spec2d pipeline on SDSS-I/-II data.


Spectroscopic Observing
The spectrographs mounted on the primary 2.5m telescope collected spectra from each plate. There are two spectrographs, each of which collects data from 320 (SDSS) or 500 (BOSS) fibers. Each spectrograph has a dichroic that sends light to red and blue cameras, so the instrument produces a total of four images for each exposure.
Spectroscopic Data Reduction
The spectroscopic pipelines extract one dimensional spectra from the raw exposures produced by the spectrographs, calibrate them in wavelength and flux, combine the red and blue halves of the spectra, measure features in these spectra, measure redshifts from these features, and classify the objects as galaxies, stars, or quasars.


  • In the tables below listing the data URLs, prepend ‘’ to all ‘URL format’ values to get the full URL.
  • URL suffixes are listed for the eBOSS survey, which includes a reprocessing of BOSS data from SDSS-III. Replace “eboss/” with “sdss/” to get the equivalent location for the original SDSS-I/-II survey files.
  • Data reduction can occur multiple times for both images and spectra. The output of each unique reduction is labeled with a distinct “rerun” number (for photometry) or different “run2d” and “run1d” versions (for spectroscopy).
  • The BOSS+eBOSS spectroscopic data for DR13 are processed with idlspec2d code
    version run2d=run1d=v5_9_0.
  • The legacy target selection and boss target selection algorithm pages describe how the various spectroscopic target classes are selected for the BOSS and legacy SDSS surveys.
  • The tiling algorithms page describes the process by which the spectroscopic plates are designed and placed relative to each other.

Spectroscopic Observing

Plate Plugging (plug)

When the observatory is ready to observe a plate, the observatory staff plugs optical fibers into the holes drilled into the plates, and maps which fiber corresponds to which hole (and therefore which object) by shining light through each fiber. This data is incorporated into one of the HDUs of the spPlate file described below.

Raw Data Collection

Observers mount cartridges containing the drilled, plugged plates on the telescope, and collect a series of 15-minute exposures on each plate until it reached a threshold estimated signal to noise ratio and at least three exposures had been collected.

SAS files generated in spectroscopic data collection
File Type in/out Description URL format format parameters
sdReport out records exposures collected on a night Not public
sdR out raw spectroscopic data frames eboss/spectro/data/%d/ mjd, CCD (r or b), camera (1 or 2), exposure id

Spectroscopic Data Reduction

The idlspec2d software has two major pipeline steps:

Extract and calibrate 1-dimensional spectra from 2-dimensional raw CCD data
Measure object classifications and redshift from those 1D spectra.

Two-dimensional Pipeline (spec2d)

References: Stoughton et al. (2002), section 4.10.1

The spec2d pipeline reads science and calibration exposures from the spectrographs, reduces and calibrates the science exposures, extracts the one dimensional spectra from the two dimensional exposures, stacks multiple exposures into combined spectra, and produces corresponding masks and noise estimates.

SAS files used or generated by the spec2d pipeline
File Type in/out Description URL format format parameters
spPlan2d in the spectro2d processing plan eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spPlan2d-%04d-%d.par run2d, plate, plate, mjd
spPlancomb in the processing plan for combining spectra eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spPlancomb-%04d-%d.par run2d, plate, plate, mjd
plPlugMapM in records which fiber corresponds to which hole in a plate (and therefore objects, and what coordinates on the sky) plPlugMapM not public, but table is in HDU 5 of thespPlate files
sdReport in records exposures collected on a night Not released
sdR in raw spectroscopic data frames eboss/spectro/data/%d/ mjd, CCD (r or b), camera (1 or 2), exposure id
spCFrame out calibrated spectra for a single CCD and exposure eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spCFrame-%c%d-%08d.par run2d, plate, CCD (r or b), camera, exposure id
spPlate out the 640 (SDSS) or 1000 (BOSS) combined flux- and wavelength-calibrated spectra over all exposures (potentially spanning multiple nights) for a given mapped plate eboss/spectro/redux/%s/%04d/spPlate-%04d-%d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd

Example: the spPlate file for plate 4444 MJD 55538 is at URL
[107 MB].

One-dimensional Pipeline (spec1d)

Reference: Bolton et al. (2012)

The spec1d pipeline reads spectra and determines classifications, redshifts, and other spectroscopic parameters. It produces the following files.

SAS files generated by the spec1d pipeline
File Type in/out Description URL format format parameters
spZline out emission line fits eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spZline-%04d-%d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd
spZall out all spectroscopic classifications and redshifts eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spZall-%04d-%d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd
spZbest out spectroscopic classifications and redshifts eboss/spectro/redux/%d/%04d/spZbest-%04d-%d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd

Per-object Spectrum Files

As of DR9, the pipeline also provides a reformatting of the same spectral data into one file per PLATE-MJD-FIBER, including the coadded spectra from spPlate, the emission line fits from spZline, the redshifts and classifications from spZall and spZbest, and optionally the individual exposure spectra from spCFrame. These are useful when you need all of the information for a small subset of objects.

File Type in/out Description URL format format parameters
spec out All spectral information for a single PLATE-MJD-FIBER eboss/spectro/redux/%d/spectra/%04d/spec-%04d-%05d-%04d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd, fiber
speclite out All spectral information for a single PLATE-MJD-FIBER except the individual exposures eboss/spectro/redux/%d/spectra/lite/%04d/spec-%04d-%05d-%04d.fits run2d, plate, plate, mjd, fiber

Stellar Parameters Pipeline (sspp)

References: Lee et al. (2008a), Lee et al. (2008b), Allende Prieto et al. (2008)

The SEGUE stellar parameters pipeline produces a number of files, stored together:

SAS files used or generated by the SSPP pipeline
File Type in/out Description URL format format parameters
ssppOut out SSPP stellar parameters ([Fe/H], log g, etc.) sdss/sspp/%d/%04d/output/param/ rerun, plate, plate, mjd
ssppOut_lineindex out SSPP line indices sdss/sspp/%d/%04d/output/param/ rerun, plate, plate, mjd

Galaxy Parameter Pipelines

For spectra of galaxies, several additional analysis pipelines are applied to derive catalogs of physical galaxy parameters. These pipelines and their outputs are described fully in the Galaxy Parameter Pipeline pages.