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Proceedings Paper • Open Access

Development of a space-based nulling interferometer to detect and characterize exoplanets

Paper Abstract

The development of small space-based platforms for nulling interferometric observations could be the pathfinder of a new era in exoplanetology. While planetary transit and radial velocity are the most productive ways to detect exoplanets, such techniques are indirect detections. For deeper characterization of exoplanets, direct detection techniques should be developed. By injecting direct light coming from exoplanets into spectrometers, we could study their chemical composition, search for biosignatures, and possibly infer the presence of life.

The low number of photons to be gathered from the planets, high contrast with the star and small angular resolution are the major difficulties for a direct detection. However, nulling interferometry seems to be a solution to tackle these challenges. By combining the light of two or more telescopes, we would considerably increase the angular resolution, and thus could potentially lead to the detection of Earth-size rocky exoplanets around Solar-type stars. Moreover, with a π- phase shift between the two interferometer arms, the starlight is reduced which allows the detection of much fainter objects around the star. In this paper it will be presented the development of a new mission based on nulling interferometry and dedicated to the Alpha Centauri system. As our nearest stellar system, it is a prime target to investigate for the research of new worlds. Monte-Carlo simulations about potential exoplanet yield of such an interferometer will be described, for different assumptions such as the detection wavelength and telescope size. Single-mode fibers and integrated optics will also be investigated for this mission. This could lead to low-cost type missions with a high potential of scientific return.

Paper Details

Date Published: 12 July 2019
PDF: 13 pages
Proc. SPIE 11180, International Conference on Space Optics — ICSO 2018, 111802X (12 July 2019); doi: 10.1117/12.2536024
Show Author Affiliations
L. Schifano, Liège Univ. (Belgium)
D. Defrère, Liège Univ. (Belgium)
O. Absil, Liège Univ. (Belgium)
J. Loicq, Ctr. Spatial de Liège (Belgium)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 11180:
International Conference on Space Optics — ICSO 2018
Zoran Sodnik; Nikos Karafolas; Bruno Cugny, Editor(s)

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