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Proceedings Paper

How to directly image a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri with a ~30-45cm space telescope
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Paper Abstract

Several mission concepts are being studied to directly image planets around nearby stars. It is commonly thought that directly imaging a potentially habitable exoplanet around a Sun-like star requires space telescopes with apertures of at least 1m. A notable exception to this is Alpha Centauri (A and B), which is an extreme outlier among FGKM stars in terms of apparent habitable zone size: the habitable zones are ~3x wider in apparent size than around any other FGKM star. This enables a ~30-45cm visible light space telescope equipped with a modern high performance coronagraph or starshade to resolve the habitable zone at high contrast and directly image any potentially habitable planet that may exist in the system. We presents a brief analysis of the astrophysical and technical challenges involved with direct imaging of Alpha Centauri with a small telescope and describe two new technologies that address some of the key technical challenges. In particular, the raw contrast requirements for such an instrument can be relaxed to 1e-8 if the mission spends 2 years collecting tens of thousands of images on the same target, enabling a factor of 500-1000 speckle suppression in post processing using a new technique called Orbital Difference Imaging (ODI). The raw light leak from both stars is controllable with a special wavefront control algorithm known as Multi-Star Wavefront Control (MSWC), which independently suppresses diffraction and aberrations from both stars using independent modes on the deformable mirror. We also show an example of a small coronagraphic mission concept to take advantage of this opportunity.

Paper Details

Date Published: 16 September 2015
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 9605, Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets VII, 960517 (16 September 2015); doi: 10.1117/12.2188732
Show Author Affiliations
Ruslan Belikov, NASA Ames Research Ctr. (United States)
Eduardo Bendek, NASA Ames Research Ctr. (United States)
Sandrine Thomas, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (United States)
Jared Males, Steward Observatory (United States)
Julien Lozi, Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9605:
Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets VII
Stuart Shaklan, Editor(s)

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