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See detailOverview of LBTI: a multipurpose facility for high spatial resolution observations
Hinz, P. M.; Defrere, Denis ULg; Skemer, A. et al

in Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series (2016, August 01)

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a high spatial resolution instrument developed for coherent imaging and nulling interferometry using the 14.4 m baseline of the 2×8.4 m LBT. The ... [more ▼]

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a high spatial resolution instrument developed for coherent imaging and nulling interferometry using the 14.4 m baseline of the 2×8.4 m LBT. The unique telescope design, comprising of the dual apertures on a common elevation-azimuth mount, enables a broad use of observing modes. The full system is comprised of dual adaptive optics systems, a near-infrared phasing camera, a 1-5 μm camera (called LMIRCam), and an 8-13 μm camera (called NOMIC). The key program for LBTI is the Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS), a survey using nulling interferometry to constrain the typical brightness from exozodiacal dust around nearby stars. Additional observations focus on the detection and characterization of giant planets in the thermal infrared, high spatial resolution imaging of complex scenes such as Jupiter's moon, Io, planets forming in transition disks, and the structure of active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). Several instrumental upgrades are currently underway to improve and expand the capabilities of LBTI. These include: Improving the performance and limiting magnitude of the parallel adaptive optics systems; quadrupling the field of view of LMIRcam (increasing to 20"x20"); adding an integral field spectrometry mode; and implementing a new algorithm for path length correction that accounts for dispersion due to atmospheric water vapor. We present the current architecture and performance of LBTI, as well as an overview of the upgrades. [less ▲]

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See detailEnabling the direct detection of earth-sized exoplanets with the LBTI HOSTS project: a progress report
Danchi, W.; Bailey, V.; Bryden, G. et al

in Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series (2016, August 01)

NASA has funded a project called the Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems (HOSTS) to survey nearby solar type stars to determine the amount of warm zodiacal dust in their habitable zones ... [more ▼]

NASA has funded a project called the Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems (HOSTS) to survey nearby solar type stars to determine the amount of warm zodiacal dust in their habitable zones. The goal is not only to determine the luminosity distribution function but also to know which individual stars have the least amount of zodiacal dust. It is important to have this information for future missions that directly image exoplanets as this dust is the main source of astrophysical noise for them. The HOSTS project utilizes the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), which consists of two 8.4-m apertures separated by a 14.4-m baseline on Mt. Graham, Arizona. The LBTI operates in a nulling mode in the mid-infrared spectral window (8-13 μm), in which light from the two telescopes is coherently combined with a 180 degree phase shift between them, producing a dark fringe at the location of the target star. In doing so the starlight is greatly reduced, increasing the contrast, analogous to a coronagraph operating at shorter wavelengths. The LBTI is a unique instrument, having only three warm reflections before the starlight reaches cold mirrors, giving it the best photometric sensitivity of any interferometer operating in the mid-infrared. It also has a superb Adaptive Optics (AO) system giving it Strehl ratios greater than 98% at 10 μm. In 2014 into early 2015 LBTI was undergoing commissioning. The HOSTS project team passed its Operational Readiness Review (ORR) in April 2015. The team recently published papers on the target sample, modeling of the nulled disk images, and initial results such as the detection of warm dust around η Corvi. Recently a paper was published on the data pipeline and on-sky performance. An additional paper is in preparation on β Leo. We will discuss the scientific and programmatic context for the LBTI project, and we will report recent progress, new results, and plans for the science verification phase that started in February 2016, and for the survey. [less ▲]

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See detailNulling Data Reduction and On-sky Performance of the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P. M.; Mennesson, B. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2016), 824

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a versatile instrument designed for high angular resolution and high-contrast infrared imaging (1.5-13 μm). In this paper, we focus on the mid ... [more ▼]

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a versatile instrument designed for high angular resolution and high-contrast infrared imaging (1.5-13 μm). In this paper, we focus on the mid-infrared (8-13 μm) nulling mode and present its theory of operation, data reduction, and on-sky performance as of the end of the commissioning phase in 2015 March. With an interferometric baseline of 14.4 m, the LBTI nuller is specifically tuned to resolve the habitable zone of nearby main-sequence stars, where warm exozodiacal dust emission peaks. Measuring the exozodi luminosity function of nearby main-sequence stars is a key milestone to prepare for future exo-Earth direct imaging instruments. Thanks to recent progress in wavefront control and phase stabilization, as well as in data reduction techniques, the LBTI demonstrated in 2015 February a calibrated null accuracy of 0.05% over a 3 hr long observing sequence on the bright nearby A3V star β Leo. This is equivalent to an exozodiacal disk density of 15-30 zodi for a Sun-like star located at 10 pc, depending on the adopted disk model. This result sets a new record for high-contrast mid-infrared interferometric imaging and opens a new window on the study of planetary systems. [less ▲]

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See detailModels of the η Corvi Debris Disk from the Keck Interferometer, Spitzer, and Herschel
Lebreton, J.; Beichman, C.; Bryden, G. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2016), 817

Debris disks are signposts of analogs to small-body populations of the solar system, often, however, with much higher masses and dust production rates. The disk associated with the nearby star η Crv is ... [more ▼]

Debris disks are signposts of analogs to small-body populations of the solar system, often, however, with much higher masses and dust production rates. The disk associated with the nearby star η Crv is especially striking, as it shows strong mid- and far-infrared excesses despite an age of ∼1.4 Gyr. We undertake constructing a consistent model of the system that can explain a diverse collection of spatial and spectral data. We analyze Keck Interferometer Nuller measurements and revisit Spitzer and additional spectrophotometric data, as well as resolved Herschel images, to determine the dust spatial distribution in the inner exozodi and in the outer belt. We model in detail the two-component disk and the dust properties from the sub-AU scale to the outermost regions by fitting simultaneously all measurements against a large parameter space. The properties of the cold belt are consistent with a collisional cascade in a reservoir of ice-free planetesimals at 133 AU. It shows marginal evidence for asymmetries along the major axis. KIN enables us to establish that the warm dust consists of a ring that peaks between 0.2 and 0.8 AU. To reconcile this location with the ∼400 K dust temperature, very high albedo dust must be invoked, and a distribution of forsterite grains starting from micron sizes satisfies this criterion, while providing an excellent fit to the spectrum. We discuss additional constraints from the LBTI and near-infrared spectra, and we present predictions of what James Webb Space Telescope can unveil about this unusual object and whether it can detect unseen planets. [less ▲]

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See detailSimultaneous Water Vapor and Dry Air Optical Path Length Measurements and Compensation with the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P.; Downey, E. et al

in Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Conference Series (2016)

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer uses a near-infrared camera to measure the optical path length variations between the two AO-corrected apertures and provide high-angular resolution ... [more ▼]

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer uses a near-infrared camera to measure the optical path length variations between the two AO-corrected apertures and provide high-angular resolution observations for all its science channels (1.5-13 microns). There is however a wavelength dependent component to the atmospheric turbulence, which can introduce optical path length errors when observing at a wavelength different from that of the fringe sensing camera. Water vapor in particular is highly dispersive and its effect must be taken into account for high-precision infrared interferometric observations as described previously for VLTI/MIDI or the Keck Interferometer Nuller. In this paper, we describe the new sensing approach that has been developed at the LBT to measure and monitor the optical path length fluctuations due to dry air and water vapor separately. After reviewing the current performance of the system for dry air seeing compensation, we present simultaneous H-, K-, and N-band observations that illustrate the feasibility of our feedforward approach to stabilize the path length fluctuations seen by the LBTI nuller. [less ▲]

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See detailExoplanet science with the LBTI: instrument status and plans
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P.; Skemer, A. et al

in Shaklan, Stuart (Ed.) Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets VII (2015, September 16)

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a strategic instrument of the LBT designed for high-sensitivity, high-contrast, and high-resolution infrared (1.5-13 $\mu$m) imaging of nearby ... [more ▼]

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a strategic instrument of the LBT designed for high-sensitivity, high-contrast, and high-resolution infrared (1.5-13 $\mu$m) imaging of nearby planetary systems. To carry out a wide range of high-spatial resolution observations, it can combine the two AO-corrected 8.4-m apertures of the LBT in various ways including direct (non-interferometric) imaging, coronagraphy (APP and AGPM), Fizeau imaging, non-redundant aperture masking, and nulling interferometry. It also has broadband, narrowband, and spectrally dispersed capabilities. In this paper, we review the performance of these modes in terms of exoplanet science capabilities and describe recent instrumental milestones such as first-light Fizeau images (with the angular resolution of an equivalent 22.8-m telescope) and deep interferometric nulling observations. [less ▲]

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See detailFirst-light LBT Nulling Interferometric Observations: Warm Exozodiacal Dust Resolved within a Few AU of eta Crv
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P. M.; Skemer, A. J. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2015), 799

We report on the first nulling interferometric observations with the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), resolving the N' band (9.81-12.41 μm) emission around the nearby main-sequence star η ... [more ▼]

We report on the first nulling interferometric observations with the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), resolving the N' band (9.81-12.41 μm) emission around the nearby main-sequence star η Crv (F2V, 1-2 Gyr). The measured source null depth amounts to 4.40% ± 0.35% over a field-of-view of 140 mas in radius (~2.6 AU for the distance of η Crv) and shows no significant variation over 35° of sky rotation. This relatively low null is unexpected given the total disk to star flux ratio measured by the Spitzer Infrared Spectrograph (IRS; ~23% across the N' band), suggesting that a significant fraction of the dust lies within the central nulled response of the LBTI (79 mas or 1.4 AU). Modeling of the warm disk shows that it cannot resemble a scaled version of the solar zodiacal cloud unless it is almost perpendicular to the outer disk imaged by Herschel. It is more likely that the inner and outer disks are coplanar and the warm dust is located at a distance of 0.5-1.0 AU, significantly closer than previously predicted by models of the IRS spectrum (~3 AU). The predicted disk sizes can be reconciled if the warm disk is not centrosymmetric, or if the dust particles are dominated by very small grains. Both possibilities hint that a recent collision has produced much of the dust. Finally, we discuss the implications for the presence of dust for the distance where the insolation is the same as Earth's (2.3 AU). [less ▲]

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See detailConstraining the Exozodiacal Luminosity Function of Main-sequence Stars: Complete Results from the Keck Nuller Mid-infrared Surveys
Mennesson, B.; Millan-Gabet, R.; Serabyn, E. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2014), 797

Forty-seven nearby main-sequence stars were surveyed with the Keck Interferometer mid-infrared Nulling instrument (KIN) between 2008 and 2011, searching for faint resolved emission from exozodiacal dust ... [more ▼]

Forty-seven nearby main-sequence stars were surveyed with the Keck Interferometer mid-infrared Nulling instrument (KIN) between 2008 and 2011, searching for faint resolved emission from exozodiacal dust. Observations of a subset of the sample have already been reported, focusing essentially on stars with no previously known dust. Here we extend this previous analysis to the whole KIN sample, including 22 more stars with known near- and/or far-infrared excesses. In addition to an analysis similar to that of the first paper of this series, which was restricted to the 8-9 mum spectral region, we present measurements obtained in all 10 spectral channels covering the 8-13 mum instrumental bandwidth. Based on the 8-9 mum data alone, which provide the highest signal-to-noise measurements, only one star shows a large excess imputable to dust emission (eta Crv), while four more show a significant (>3sigma) excess: beta Leo, beta UMa, zeta Lep, and gamma Oph. Overall, excesses detected by KIN are more frequent around A-type stars than later spectral types. A statistical analysis of the measurements further indicates that stars with known far-infrared (lambda >= 70 mum) excesses have higher exozodiacal emission levels than stars with no previous indication of a cold outer disk. This statistical trend is observed regardless of spectral type and points to a dynamical connection between the inner (zodi-like) and outer (Kuiper-Belt-like) dust populations. The measured levels for such stars are clustering close to the KIN detection limit of a few hundred zodis and are indeed consistent with those expected from a populat [less ▲]

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See detailFundamental Limitations of High Contrast Imaging Set by Small Sample Statistics
Mawet, D.; Milli, J.; Wahhaj, Z. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2014), 792

In this paper, we review the impact of small sample statistics on detection thresholds and corresponding confidence levels (CLs) in high-contrast imaging at small angles. When looking close to the star ... [more ▼]

In this paper, we review the impact of small sample statistics on detection thresholds and corresponding confidence levels (CLs) in high-contrast imaging at small angles. When looking close to the star, the number of resolution elements decreases rapidly toward small angles. This reduction of the number of degrees of freedom dramatically affects CLs and false alarm probabilities. Naively using the same ideal hypothesis and methods as for larger separations, which are well understood and commonly assume Gaussian noise, can yield up to one order of magnitude error in contrast estimations at fixed CL. The statistical penalty exponentially increases toward very small inner working angles. Even at 5-10 resolution elements from the star, false alarm probabilities can be significantly higher than expected. Here we present a rigorous statistical analysis that ensures robustness of the CL, but also imposes a substantial limitation on corresponding achievable detection limits (thus contrast) at small angles. This unavoidable fundamental statistical effect has a significant impact on current coronagraphic and future high-contrast imagers. Finally, the paper concludes with practical recommendations to account for small number statistics when computing the sensitivity to companions at small angles and when exploiting the results of direct imaging planet surveys. [less ▲]

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See detailL'-band AGPM vector vortex coronagraph's first light on LBTI/LMIRCam
Defrere, Denis ULg; Absil, Olivier ULg; Hinz, P. et al

in Proceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering (2014, July 21)

We present the first observations obtained with the L'-band AGPM vortex coronagraph recently installed on LBTI/LMIRCam. The AGPM (Annular Groove Phase Mask) is a vector vortex coronagraph made from ... [more ▼]

We present the first observations obtained with the L'-band AGPM vortex coronagraph recently installed on LBTI/LMIRCam. The AGPM (Annular Groove Phase Mask) is a vector vortex coronagraph made from diamond subwavelength gratings. It is designed to improve the sensitivity and dynamic range of high-resolution imaging at very small inner working angles, down to 0.09 arcseconds in the case of LBTI/LMIRCam in the L' band. During the first hours on sky, we observed the young A5V star HR8799 with the goal to demonstrate the AGPM performance and assess its relevance for the ongoing LBTI planet survey (LEECH). Preliminary analyses of the data reveal the four known planets clearly at high SNR and provide unprecedented sensitivity limits in the inner planetary system (down to the diffraction limit of 0.09 arcseconds). © 2014 SPIE. [less ▲]

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See detailCo-phasing the Large Binocular Telescope: status and performance of LBTI/PHASECam
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P.; Downey, E. et al

in Optical and Infrared Interferometry IV (2014, July 01)

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer is a NASA-funded nulling and imaging instrument designed to coherently combine the two 8.4-m primary mirrors of the LBT for high-sensitivity, high-contrast ... [more ▼]

The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer is a NASA-funded nulling and imaging instrument designed to coherently combine the two 8.4-m primary mirrors of the LBT for high-sensitivity, high-contrast, and highresolution infrared imaging (1.5-13 μm). PHASECam is LBTI's near-infrared camera used to measure tip-tilt and phase variations between the two AO-corrected apertures and provide high-angular resolution observations. We report on the status of the system and describe its on-sky performance measured during the first semester of 2014. With a spatial resolution equivalent to that of a 22.8-meter telescope and the light-gathering power of single 11.8-meter mirror, the co-phased LBT can be considered to be a forerunner of the next-generation extremely large telescopes (ELT). [less ▲]

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See detailThe LBTI hunt for observable signatures of terrestrial systems (HOSTS) survey: a key NASA science program on the road to exoplanet imaging missions
Danchi, W.; Bailey, V.; Bryden, G. et al

in Optical and Infrared Interferometry IV (2014, July 01)

The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) program on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) will survey nearby stars for faint exozodiacal dust (exozodi ... [more ▼]

The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) program on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) will survey nearby stars for faint exozodiacal dust (exozodi). This warm circumstellar dust, analogous to the interplanetary dust found in the vicinity of the Earth in our own system, is produced in comet breakups and asteroid collisions. Emission and/or scattered light from the exozodi will be the major source of astrophysical noise for a future space telescope aimed at direct imaging and spectroscopy of terrestrial planets (exo- Earths) around nearby stars. About 20% of nearby field stars have cold dust coming from planetesimals at large distances from the stars (Eiroa et al. 2013, A&A, 555, A11; Siercho et al. 2014, ApJ, 785, 33). Much less is known about exozodi; current detection limits for individual stars are at best ~ 500 times our solar system's level (aka. 500 zodi). LBTI-HOSTS will be the first survey capable of measuring exozodi at the 10 zodi level (3σ). Detections of warm dust will also reveal new information about planetary system architectures and evolution. We will describe the motivation for the survey and progress on target selection, not only the actual stars likely to be observed by such a mission but also those whose observation will enable sensible extrapolations for stars that will not be observed with LBTI. We briefly describe the detection of the debris disk around η Crv, which is the first scientific result from the LBTI coming from the commissioning of the instrument in December 2013, shortly after the first time the fringes were stabilized. [less ▲]

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See detailThe Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Planetary Systems (HOSTS)
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P.; Bryden, G. et al

Conference (2014, March)

The presence of large amounts of exozodiacal dust around nearby main sequence stars is considered as a potential threat for the direct imaging of Earth-like exoplanets and, hence, the search for ... [more ▼]

The presence of large amounts of exozodiacal dust around nearby main sequence stars is considered as a potential threat for the direct imaging of Earth-like exoplanets and, hence, the search for biosignatures (Roberge et al. 2012). However, it is also considered as a signpost for the presence of terrestrial planets that might be hidden in the dust disk (Stark and Kuchner 2008). Characterizing exozodiacal dust around nearby sequence stars is therefore a crucial step toward one of the main goals of modern astronomy: finding extraterrestrial life. After briefly reviewing the latest results in this field, we present the exozodiacal dust survey on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI). The survey is called HOSTS and is specifically designed to determine the prevalence and brightness of exozodiacal dust disks with the sensitivity required to prepare for future New Worlds Missions that will image Earth-like exoplanets. To achieve this objective, the LBTI science team has carefully established a balanced list of 50 nearby main-sequence stars that are likely candidates of these missions and/or can be observed with the best instrument performance (see companion abstract by Roberge et al.). Exozodiacal dust disk candidates detected by the Keck Interferometer Nuller will also be observed. The first results of the survey will be presented. To precisely detect exozodiacal dust, the LBTI combines the two 8-m primary mirrors of the LBT using N-band nulling interferometry. Interferometric combination provides the required angular resolution (70-90 mas) to resolve the habitable zone of nearby main sequence stars while nulling is used to subtract the stellar light and reach the required contrast of a few 10-4. A Kband fringe tracker ensures the stability of the null. The current performance of the instrument and the first nulling measurements will be presented. [less ▲]

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See detailL'-band AGPM vector vortex coronagraph's first light on LBTI/LMIRCAM
Defrere, Denis ULg; Absil, Olivier ULg; Hinz, P. et al

Poster (2014, March)

We present the first science observations obtained with the L'-band AGPM coronagraph recently installed on LBTI/LMIRCAM. The AGPM (Annular Groove Phase Mask) is a vector vortex coronagraph made from ... [more ▼]

We present the first science observations obtained with the L'-band AGPM coronagraph recently installed on LBTI/LMIRCAM. The AGPM (Annular Groove Phase Mask) is a vector vortex coronagraph made from diamond sub-wavelength gratings tuned to the L'-band. It is designed to improve the sensitivity and dynamic range of high-resolution imaging at very small inner working a [less ▲]

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See detailSearching for Faint Exozodiacal Disks: Keck Results and LBTI Status
Defrere, Denis ULg; Hinz, P.; Mennesson, B. et al

in Exploring the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems (2014, January 01)

The possible presence of dust in the habitable zone around nearby main-sequence stars is considered as a major hurdle toward the direct imaging of Earth-like extrasolar planets with future dedicated space ... [more ▼]

The possible presence of dust in the habitable zone around nearby main-sequence stars is considered as a major hurdle toward the direct imaging of Earth-like extrasolar planets with future dedicated space-based telescopes (e.g., Roberge et al. 2012). In this context, NASA has funded two ground-based mid-infrared nulling interferometers to combine the large apertures available at the Keck Observatory and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). In this poster, we present the preliminary results of the extended survey carried out with the Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) between 2008 and 2011 and describe the forthcoming LBTI survey. [less ▲]

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See detailTarget Selection for the LBTI Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Planetary Systems
Weinberger, Alycia J.; Roberge, A.; Kennedy, G. et al

in American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts #223 (2014, January 01)

The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) will survey nearby stars for faint exozodiacal dust (exozodi). About 20 ... [more ▼]

The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) will survey nearby stars for faint exozodiacal dust (exozodi). About 20% of field stars have cold debris disks created by the collisions and evaporation of planetesimals. Much less is known about warm circumstellar dust, such as that found in the vicinity of the Earth in our own system. This dust is generated in asteroidal collisions and cometary breakups, and current detection limits are at best ~500 times our system's level, i.e. 500 zodi. LBTI-HOSTS will be the first survey capable of measuring exozodi at the 10 zodi level (3σ). Exozodi of this brightness would be the major source of astrophysical noise for a future space telescope aimed at direct imaging and spectroscopy of habitable zone terrestrial planets. Detections of warm dust will also reveal new information about planetary system architectures and evolution. We describe the target star selection by the LBTI Science Team to satisfy the goals of the HOSTS survey -- to fully inform target selection for a future exoEarth mission. We are interested in actual stars likely to be observed by a mission and stars whose observation will enable sensible extrapolations to those stars that cannot be observed. We integrated two approaches to generate the HOSTS target list. The mission-driven approach concentrates on F, G, and K-type stars that are the best targets for future direct observations of exoEarths, thereby providing model-independent “ground truth” dust observations. However, not every potential target of a future exoEarth mission can be observed with LBTI. The sensitivity-driven approach selects targets based only on what exozodi sensitivity could be achieved, without consideration of exoEarth mission constraints. This naturally selects more luminous stars (A and early F-type stars). In both cases, all stars are close enough to Earth such that their habitable zones are resolvable by LBTI and bright enough at N-band (10 μm) to provide excellent sensitivity. We also discuss observational and astrophysical motivations for excluding binaries of certain separations. [less ▲]

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See detailExozodi disk models for the HOSTS survey on the LBTI
Wyatt, Mark; Kennedy, G.; Skemer, A. et al

in American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts #223 (2014, January 01)

This poster describes a simple model for exozodiacal emission that was developed to interpret observations of the Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) project on the ... [more ▼]

This poster describes a simple model for exozodiacal emission that was developed to interpret observations of the Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial planetary Systems (HOSTS) project on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI). HOSTS is a NASA-funded key science project using mid-infrared nulling interferometry at the LBTI to seach for faint exozodiacal dust (exozodi) in the habitable zones of nearby stars. The aim was to make a model that includes the fewest possible assumptions, so that it is easy to characterize how choices of model parameters affect what can be inferred from the observations. However the model is also sufficiently complex that it can be compared in a physically meaningful way with the level of dust in the Solar System, and can also be readily used to assess the impact of a detection (or of a non-detection) on the ability of a mission to detect Earth-like planets. Here we describe the model, and apply it to the sample of stars being searched by HOSTS to determine the zodi level (i.e., the number of Solar System zodiacal clouds) that would be needed for a detection for each star in the survey. Particular emphasis is given to our definition of a zodi, and what that means for stars of different luminosity, and a comparison is given between different zodi definitions justifying our final choice. The achievable exozodi levels range from 1-20 zodi for different stars in the prime sample for a 0.01% null depth, with a median level of 2.5 zodi. [less ▲]

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See detailExpanding the CHARA/FLUOR hot disk survey
Mennesson, B.; Scott, N.; Ten Brummelaar, T. et al

in Journal of Astronomical Instrumentation (2013), 2(2), 1340010

Little is presently known about the hot (>300 K) dust component of debris disks surrounding main sequence stars, similar to the zodiacal dust cloud found in the inner solar system.While extensive surveys ... [more ▼]

Little is presently known about the hot (>300 K) dust component of debris disks surrounding main sequence stars, similar to the zodiacal dust cloud found in the inner solar system.While extensive surveys have been carried out from space, the majority of detections have surprisingly come from the ground, where near infrared interferometric observations have recently revealed small (∼1%) resolved excesses around a dozen nearby main sequence stars. Most of these results have come from the CHARA array “FLUOR” instrument (Mt. Wilson, CA), which has demonstrated the best sensitivity worldwide so far for this type of studies, and has carried out an initial survey of ∼40 stars. In order to further understand the origin of this “hot dust phenomenon”, we will extend this initial survey to a larger number of stars and lower excess detection limits, i.e. higher visibility accuracy providing higher contrast measurements. To this end, two major instrumental developments are underway at CHARA. The first one aims at improving FLUOR’s sensitivity to a median K-band magnitude limit of 5 (making 200 targets available). The second development is based on a method that we recently developed for accurate (better than 0.1%) null depth measurements of stars, and that can be extended to regular interferometric visibility measurements. [less ▲]

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See detailAn interferometric study of the Fomalhaut inner debris disk. III. Detailed models of the exozodiacal disk and its origin
Lebreton, J; van Lieshout, R; Augereau, J-C et al

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2013), 555

Context. Debris disks are thought to be extrasolar analogues to the Solar System planetesimal belts. The star Fomalhaut harbors a cold debris belt at 140AU comparable to the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, as well ... [more ▼]

Context. Debris disks are thought to be extrasolar analogues to the Solar System planetesimal belts. The star Fomalhaut harbors a cold debris belt at 140AU comparable to the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, as well as evidence for a warm dust component, unresolved by single-dish telescopes, that is suspected to be a bright analogue to the Solar System's zodiacal dust. Aims. Interferometric observations obtained with the VLTI/VINCI instrument and the Keck Interferometer Nuller have identi fied near- and mid-infrared excesses attributed respectively to hot and warm exozodiacal dust residing in the inner few AU of the Fomalhaut environment. We aim to characterize the properties of this double inner dust belt and to unveil its origin. Methods.We perform parametric modelling of the exozodiacal disk ("exozodi") using the GRaTer radiative transfer code in order to reproduce the interferometric data, complemented by mid- to far-infrared photometric measurements from Spitzer and Herschel. A detailed treatment of sublimation temperatures is introduced to explore the hot population at the size-dependent sublimation rim. We then use an analytical approach to test successively several source mechanisms for the dust and suspected parent bodies. Results. A good fi t to the multi-wavelength data is found by two distinct dust populations: (1) a population of very small (0.01 to 0.5 µ m) and therefore unbound, hot dust grains con ned in a narrow region ( ~0.1 - 0.3 AU) at the sublimation rim of carbonaceous material; (2) a population of bound grains at 2AU that is protected from sublimation and has a larger mass despite its fainter flux level. We propose that the hot dust is produced by the release of small carbon grains following the disruption of dust aggregates that originate from the warm component. A mechanism such as gas braking is required to further con ne the small grains for long enough. In situ dust production could hardly be ensured for the age of the star and we conclude that the observed amount of dust is triggered by intense dynamical activity. Conclusions. Fomalhaut may be representative of exozodis that are currently being surveyed at near and mid-infrared wavelengths worldwide. We propose a framework for reconciling the "hot exozodi phenomenon" with theoretical constraints: the hot component of Fomalhaut is likely the "tip of the iceberg" as it could derive from the more massive, but fainter, warm dust component residing near the ice line. This inner disk exhibits interesting morphology and can be considered a prime target for future exoplanet research. [less ▲]

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See detailAn interferometric study of the Fomalhaut inner debris disk II. Keck Nuller mid-infrared observations
Mennesson, B.; Absil, Olivier ULg; Lebreton, J. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2013), 763

We report on high contrast mid-infrared observations of Fomalhaut obtained with the Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) showing a small resolved excess over the level expected from the stellar photosphere ... [more ▼]

We report on high contrast mid-infrared observations of Fomalhaut obtained with the Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) showing a small resolved excess over the level expected from the stellar photosphere. The measured null excess has a mean value of 0.35% +/- 0.10% between 8 and 11 microns and increases from 8 to 13 microns. Given the small field of view of the instrument, the source of this marginal excess must be contained within 2AU of Fomalhaut. This result is reminiscent of previous VLTI K-band observations, which implied the presence of a ~ 0.88% excess, and argued that thermal emission from hot dusty grains located within 6 AU from Fomalhaut was the most plausible explanation. Using a parametric 2D radiative transfer code and a Bayesian analysis, we examine different dust disk structures to reproduce both the near and mid-infrared data simultaneously. While not a definitive explanation of the hot excess of Fomalhaut, our model suggests that the most likely inner few AU disk geometry consists of a two-component structure, with two different and spatially distinct grain populations. The 2 to 11 microns data are consistent with an inner hot ring of very small (~ 10 to 300 nm) carbon-rich grains concentrating around 0.1AU. The second dust population consists of larger grains (size of a few microns to a few tens of microns) located further out in a colder region where regular astronomical silicates could survive, with an inner edge around 1AU. From a dynamical point of view, the presence of the inner concentration of sub-micron sized grains is surprising, as such grains should be expelled from the inner planetary system by radiation pressure within only a few years. This could either point to some inordinate replenishment rates (e.g. many grazing comets coming from an outer reservoir) or to the existence of some braking mechanism preventing the grains from moving out. [less ▲]

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