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Proceedings Paper

High contrast stellar observations within the diffraction limit at the Palomar Hale telescope
Author(s): B. Mennesson; C. Hanot; E. Serabyn; S. R. Martin; K. Liewer; F. Loya; D. Mawet
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Paper Abstract

We report on high-accuracy, high-resolution (< 20mas) stellar measurements obtained in the near infrared ( 2.2 microns) at the Palomar 200 inch telescope using two elliptical (3m x 1.5m) sub-apertures located 3.4m apart. Our interferometric coronagraph, known as the "Palomar Fiber Nuller" (PFN), is located downstream of the Palomar adaptive optics (AO) system and recombines the two separate beams into a common singlemode fiber. The AO system acts as a "fringe tracker", maintaining the optical path difference (OPD) between the beams around an adjustable value, which is set to the central dark interference fringe. AO correction ensures high efficiency and stable injection of the beams into the single-mode fiber. A chopper wheel and a fast photometer are used to record short (< 50ms per beam) interleaved sequences of background, individual beam and interferometric signals. In order to analyze these chopped null data sequences, we developed a new statistical method, baptized "Null Self-Calibration" (NSC), which provides astrophysical null measurements at the 0.001 level, with 1 σ uncertainties as low as 0.0003. Such accuracy translates into a dynamic range greater than 1000:1 within the diffraction limit, demonstrating that the approach effectively bridges the traditional gap between regular coronagraphs, limited in angular resolution, and long baseline visibility interferometers, whose dynamic range is restricted to 100:1. As our measurements are extremely sensitive to the brightness distribution very close to the optical axis, we were able to constrain the stellar diameters and amounts of circumstellar emission for a sample of very bright stars. With the improvement expected when the PALM-3000 extreme AO system comes on-line at Palomar, the same instrument now equipped with a state of the art low noise fast read-out near IR camera, will yield 10-4 to 10-3 contrast as close as 30 mas for stars with K magnitude brighter than 6. Such a system will provide a unique and ideal tool for the detection of young (<100 Myr) self-luminous planets and hot debris disks in the immediate vicinity (0.1 to a few AUs) of nearby (< 50pc) stars.

Paper Details

Date Published: 14 July 2010
PDF: 10 pages
Proc. SPIE 7735, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy III, 773511 (14 July 2010); doi: 10.1117/12.857633
Show Author Affiliations
B. Mennesson, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
C. Hanot, Univ. de Liège (Belgium)
E. Serabyn, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
S. R. Martin, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
K. Liewer, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
F. Loya, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)
D. Mawet, Jet Propulsion Lab. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7735:
Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy III
Ian S. McLean; Suzanne K. Ramsay; Hideki Takami, Editor(s)

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