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From planetary birth with aperture masking interferometry to nulling with Lithium Niobate technology

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - LITHIUM (From planetary birth with aperture masking interferometry to nulling with Lithium Niobate technology)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-02-29

The goal of this project is to understand the formation of our Earth by looking at exoplanets, and studying their formation. This is a technological challenge, since exoplanets are not only extremely faint, but also close to their bright host star. On the positive side, this led to many promising technological developments, like extreme adaptive-optics and coronagraphs. This project aims at developing and upgrading two specific technologies: aperture masking and single-mode filtering. With time, single mode filtering has emerged as a key technique for high-angular resolution observations. The maturation of this technique has allowed us to design the PicSat satellite. This is the first major realisation of this ERC. Scheduled for launch beginning of 2018, it will, hopefully, provide us with unique data to better understand planetary formation. The technological developments done during this project were also used for the GRAVITY instrument, and led to the first detection of an exoplanet by optical interferometry.
The main objective of this project is to better understand planet formation. To achieve this, the DoA has been split into 4 work packages:
- The first work-package consists in using existing facilities to gather more data using a technique called aperture-masking. We used the NACO, GPI, and SPHERE instruments to get more data on several young debris-disks. We looked for planets in those disks, but couldn’t find any. We also realized that the combination of aperture-masking and mid-infrared observations excels at characterising planetary disks. This was shown on the young object IRS48, with an article written by G. Schworer as lead author.
- We have commissioned the aperture mask for the SPHERE instrument. It is now available to the astronomical community. We have installed the FIRST instrument on the SUBARU telescope.
- We worked with IXBLue and TeemPhotonics to develop new beam combiners, which improve the accuracy of aperture-masking instruments. The instrument on which these combiners are tested, FIRST, is under completion, and uses special monomode fibers to filter the light and reach unprecedented accuracy. We plan to install it on the SUBARU telescope in June 2018.
- Last, we have striven to meet the deadline of the transit of the young planet Beta Pictoris b. This is an event which only happens every 23 years, and which will allow us to directly confront formation models with observations. Beta Pictoris b is specific because of its young age, its proximity to our stellar system, and the inclination of its orbit relative to our line of sight. We have used the technique that we developed for FIRST to miniaturise a detection system within the space available in a 3U CubeSat.
- Last, as extra, we have detected, for the first time, an exoplanet by optical interferometry (HR8799e).
The most notable advance of the project comes from the technology developed in WP3, which is then re-used for the space telescope PicSat. The PicSat satellite is the first CubeSat developed for exoplanetary science. This was made possible through advances in fiber optics and beam-pointing technologies. The accuracy is so good that we are thinking of extending the technique to other scientific areas, like fiber communication in space. A patent is currently under investigation, as well as a partnership with a private company.
The PicSat satellite in flight
Inspection of the PicSat satellite