A Novel Simultaneous Differential Imager for the direct
imaging of giant extra-solar planets
(100 Myr old) extra-solar planets are 100000 times
more self-luminous than old (5 Gyr) extra-solar
planets, whereas their primary stars are only slightly (2-5 times) brighter
when this young. Currently the majority of such young stars that are nearby
(<50pc) are located in the southern star forming regions and associations
(d < -20 deg.).
To detect a faint point source (a planet) near a bright source (its star)
requires high spatial resolution, that is high
Strehl ratios at large telescopes. Therefore, NACO is the instrument of
choice to detect extra-solar planets directly by imaging. However, NACO (like
all AO systems) suffers from a limiting “Speckle-noise” floor
which prevents the detection of planets within 1“ of
the primary star. Hence NACO requires some method to suppress this limiting
Together with the Steward Observatory we have
implemented and commissioned in NACO an observation mode to calibrate and
remove the “Speckle noise” in the AO-images: Exploiting the fact
that all extra-solar giant planets have strong CH4 (methane) absorption
beyond 1.62 µm in the H band NIR atmospheric window, a novel optical device
has been implemented that allows one to obtain simultaneously 4 images of a
star through 3 slightly different filters, sampling both inside and outside
of the CH4 feature (see Fig. 1 and 4).
Schematic view of the new NACO-SDI-mode
1. A new Camera system has been implemented into CONICA consisting of a f/40
camera and a special quadrant filter just in front of the focal plane (see Fig.
1). To make it fit into the given space, a three lens solution has been
chosen with highly effective AR-coatings below 0.1% reflection losses per
lens. Special care has been taken to make sure that imaging errors are below
the diffraction limit, to minimize the differential static aberrations
between the four PSFs. The complete module is shown in Fig. 2.
Fig. 2: The SDI-Camera modul
To avoid residual speckle pattern produced by variation of the PSF over the
detector array, high imaging quality all over the chip is required. The
theoretical Strehl ratio is better than 95% all over the FOV. Lens radii have
been tested by interferometry.
2. To split the light into four imaging beams of full aperture, a double
Calcite Wollaston has been inserted into CONICA“s
Grism/Polarizer wheel. The second Wollaston is rotated by 45 deg relative to
the first one resulting in a romboid distribution
of the four sub-images.
3. To avoid overlapping FOVs, a small 6x6 arcsec
mask has been introduced into the focal plane wheel.
In summary, this combination provides four simultaneous narrow band images of
the same object with slightly different central wavelengths distributed
around the CH4 absorption at 1.62µm. PSFs and
residual speckle noise distributions are very close to be identical, thus,
the speckle noise is expected to be drastically reduced by this simultaneous
differential imaging method (see Marois et al,
CONICA-SDI has been successfully commissioned during two observational periodes in August 2003 and Fevruary
The image scale has been confirmed within better than 1%. The measured pixel
scale is 17.25 ±0.06 mas/pixel
Distortion is shown to be less than 0.5% between and inside the given FOVs.
Focus position and higher order static aberrations have been measured by the
method of phase diversity. The measured differential wave front deviations
are less than 10 nm RMS error across all orders measured.
For a number of near-by young stars deep 40 min SDI-images have been taken,
to compare the gain in speckle noise reduction to the theoretically expected
one. Fig. 5 and 6 shows the result for one star:
The differential SDI-method gains particularly inside the residual seeing
halo compared to non-differential methods.
2007, this SDI-mode has been improved significantly by inserting a special
YVO4-double prism: The optical axis of the second Wollaston prism is rotated
by 45 deg relative to the wedge edge, thus, the four resulting sub-images are
using now the full detector quadrants instead of the rhomboid pattern of the
first splitting device. The resulting advantages are: Significantly increased
FOV (now 8”x8”) and smaller chromatic aberration, which improves the
IR-Spectrum of Gl229B, a T6 brown dwarf, around the 1.6µm CH4
–Absorption feature. The pass-bands of the three different narrow
band filters are indicated.
The double Wollaston component
The new YVO4-double Wollaston (SDI+)
A rather complex FDL pipeline has been developed to get well reduced data
just after finishing the exposure in order to be able to identify potential
candidates for extrasolar planets: After
flat-fielding and sky-subtraction the individual images are extracted and
centered relative to each other within 0.01 pixels. Even though the narrow
band filters are very near to each other (1.575, 1.600, 1.625 µm), we have
corrected for deviation in wavelength by re-scaling the diffraction pattern
before subtracting them. The same procedure has been done for a data set
obtained after having rotated by 33 deg. The two data sets have been
subtracted again, thus, a potential planet should appear as a pair of
negative and positive spots, separated by a rotation angle of 33 deg.
relative to the star.
Fig. 5: To demonstrate the similarity of speckle pattern, to the right the
four individual images are shown as close-ups. To the right we show
schematically the way from raw data to fully SDI reduced data: The raw data
reflect the romboidal splitting by the double
Wollaston device. A data reduction pipeline has been used
to flat-field, extract and subtract the individual images. The comparison of standard AO procedure (including unsharp masking) to the SDI method clearly demonstrate
the advantage of this differential simultaneous method. It should be noted
that the seeing was a rather poor 1.1” for these observations.
Fig. 6: Comparison of AO-Point spread function to residual un-sharp masked
and SDI-imaging sensitivities at the 1 sigma level:
To the left the image contrast is shown in H-magnitudes as a function of
radial distance from the star. While the „optimized conventional AO
method“ remains speckle noise limited within the seeing halo regime and
farer away, the sensitivity of the SDI method is by about 2.5 to 3 mag deeper inside 0.5arcsec radius and reaches the photon
noise limit outside this radius.
• Lagrange, A.-M., Chauvin, G., Fusco, Th., Gendron, E., Roman, D., Hartung,
M., Lacombe, F., Mouillet, D., Rousset,
G., Drossart, P., Lenzen, R., Moutou, C., Brandner, W., Hubin, N., Clenet,Y., Stolte, A., Schoedel, R., Zins, G., Spyromilio, J., 2003, First
diffraction limited images at VLT with NAOS and CONICA, Proc. SPIE 4841, page
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M., Brandner, W., Finger, G., Hubin,
N., Lacombe, F., Lagrange, A.-M., Lehnert, M., Moorwood, A., Mouillet,
D., 2003, NAOS-CONICA first on sky results in a variety of observing modes,
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• Marois, Ch., Doyon, R., Racine,
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Last updated: July 11, 2007