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See detailMulti-aperture imaging of extrasolar planetary systems (invited review)
Absil, Olivier ULg

Scientific conference (2009, September 14)

Space‐based nulling interferometry has been identified since 1978 as a promising technique to detect and characterize extrasolar Earth‐like planets. In this talk, I will review the evolution of the ... [more ▼]

Space‐based nulling interferometry has been identified since 1978 as a promising technique to detect and characterize extrasolar Earth‐like planets. In this talk, I will review the evolution of the multi‐aperture concepts dedicated to Earth‐like planet imaging during the last 30 years, and discuss the future prospects in this field. In particular, I will describe the proposed architecture for the Darwin/TPF‐I mission, which has resulted from a common optimization effort by ESA and NASA and from various industrial studies during the past decade. The main scientific and technical hard points will be critically discussed. This talk will also review the precursor instruments (present and future) that could enable future flagship interferometric missions similar to Darwin/TPF‐I. [less ▲]

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See detailExozodiacal discs with ALADDIN: how deep can we go?
Absil, Olivier ULg

Scientific conference (2009, May 12)

Studying the warm inner part of debris discs—-the extrasolar counterparts of the zodiacal dust cloud-—is of prime importance to characterise the global architecture of planetary systems. Furthermore, the ... [more ▼]

Studying the warm inner part of debris discs—-the extrasolar counterparts of the zodiacal dust cloud-—is of prime importance to characterise the global architecture of planetary systems. Furthermore, the possible presence of large quantities of warm dust around nearby main sequence stars is unanimously recognised as a major threat for future space missions dedicated to the direct detection and characterisation of Earth-like planets (either with visible/near-IR coronagraphy or mid-infrared interferometry). As of today, exozodiacal discs have been directly resolved around very few main sequence stars, at a sensitivity level of about 1000 times our zodiacal dust cloud. In this context, the ALADDIN project aims at detecting warm dust populations around nearby main sequence stars with significantly improved sensitivity. In this paper, we present a thorough study of ALADDIN's estimated performance. End-to-end simulations taking into account the specific characteristics of the Antarctic environment have been carried out, showing that a nulling interferometer coupled to a pair of 1-m class telescopes in Antarctica would perform significantly better than a similar instrument working on 8-m class telescopes in a temperate site. Exozodiacal dust density levels as low as 50 times the Solar zodiacal cloud are within reach around most Solar-type stars within 25 pc. Such performance would bring the study of exozodiacal light to a new level, and enable a fine study of terrestrial planet environments. Suitable candidate targets for direct Earth-like planet detection could then be identified among nearby main sequence stars in the Southern hemisphere, and the design of future space missions tuned to cope with the statistical occurrence of bright exozodiacal discs. [less ▲]

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See detailThe spin-orbit alignment of the Fomalhaut planetary system probed by optical long baseline interferometry
Le Bouquin, J.-B.; Absil, Olivier ULg; Benisty, M. et al

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2009), 498

Aims. We discuss the spin-orbit orientation of the Fomalhaut planetary system composed of a central A4V star, a debris disk, and a recently discovered planetary companion. Methods: We use spectrally ... [more ▼]

Aims. We discuss the spin-orbit orientation of the Fomalhaut planetary system composed of a central A4V star, a debris disk, and a recently discovered planetary companion. Methods: We use spectrally resolved, near-IR long baseline interferometry to obtain precise spectro-astrometric measurements across the Br-gamma absorption line. The achieved astrometric accuracy of ±3 muas and the spectral resolution R=1500 from the AMBER/VLTI instrument allow us to spatially and spectrally resolve the rotating photosphere. Results: We find a position angle PA(star)=65° ± 3° for the stellar rotation axis, perpendicular to the literature measurement for the disk position angle (PA(disk)=156.0 ° ± 0.3°). This is the first time such a test could be performed for a debris disk, and in a non-eclipsing system. Additionally, our measurements suggest unexpected backward-scattering properties for the circumstellar dust grains. Conclusions: Our observations validate the standard scenario for star and planet formation in which the angular momentum of the planetary systems are expected to be colinear with the stellar spins. Based on observations collected at the VLTI (ESO Paranal, Chile), with the 082.C-0376 program from the AMBER Guaranteed Time of the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri (INAF, Italy). [less ▲]

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See detailHot dust in the inner parts of circumstellar debris discs
Absil, Olivier ULg

Scientific conference (2009, April 01)

Studying the warm inner part of debris discs—the extrasolar counterparts of the zodiacal dust cloud—is of prime importance to characterize the global architecture of planetary systems. Because of the high ... [more ▼]

Studying the warm inner part of debris discs—the extrasolar counterparts of the zodiacal dust cloud—is of prime importance to characterize the global architecture of planetary systems. Because of the high contrast and small angular separation between the star and the exozodiacal light, high-precision infrared interferometry is the best-suited tool to carry out such observations. In this paper, we review the first direct detection of an exozodiacal disc recently reported around Vega by Absil et al. (2006), and discuss the currently on-going observing efforts in this domain. We show how interferometric data can constrain the composition and the dynamics of extrasolar planetary systems, and thereby put useful constraints on the presence of small bodies and/or giant planets. First statistical trends for high-density exozodiacal discs towards a small sample of nearby main sequence stars are presented. Finally, we briefly discuss how next generation interferometric instruments could change our view of debris discs, pushing the detection limit towards meaningful density levels in the context of future life-finding missions such as Darwin/TPF. [less ▲]

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See detailExoplanet Characterization and the Search for Life
Kasting, J.; et al.; Hanot, Charles ULg et al

E-print/Working paper (2009)

Over 300 extrasolar planets (exoplanets) have been detected orbiting nearby stars. We now hope to conduct a census of all planets around nearby stars and to characterize their atmospheres and surfaces ... [more ▼]

Over 300 extrasolar planets (exoplanets) have been detected orbiting nearby stars. We now hope to conduct a census of all planets around nearby stars and to characterize their atmospheres and surfaces with spectroscopy. Rocky planets within their star's habitable zones have the highest priority, as these have the potential to harbor life. Our science goal is to find and characterize all nearby exoplanets; this requires that we measure the mass, orbit, and spectroscopic signature of each one at visible and infrared wavelengths. The techniques for doing this are at hand today. Within the decade we could answer long-standing questions about the evolution and nature of other planetary systems, and we could search for clues as to whether life exists elsewhere in our galactic neighborhood. [less ▲]

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See detailTechnology for a Mid-IR Flagship Mission to Characterize Earth-like Exoplanets
Lawson, P. R.; Absil, Olivier ULg; Akeson, R. L. et al

E-print/Working paper (2009)

The exploration of Earth-like exoplanets will be enabled at mid-infrared wavelengths through technology and engineering advances in nulling interferometry and precision formation flying. Nulling ... [more ▼]

The exploration of Earth-like exoplanets will be enabled at mid-infrared wavelengths through technology and engineering advances in nulling interferometry and precision formation flying. Nulling interferometry provides the dynamic range needed for the detection of biomarkers. Formation flying provides the angular resolution required in the mid-infrared to separately distinguish the spectra of planets in multi-planet systems. The flight performance requirements for nulling have been met and must now be validated in a flight-like environment. Formation-flying algorithms have been demonstrated in the lab and must now be validated in space. Our proposed technology program is described. [less ▲]

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See detailDarwin-A Mission to Detect and Search for Life on Extrasolar Planets
Cockell, C. S.; Léger, A.; Fridlund, M. et al

in Astrobiology (2009), 9(1)

The discovery of extrasolar planets is one of the greatest achievements of modern astronomy. The detection of planets that vary widely in mass demonstrates that extrasolar planets of low mass exist. In ... [more ▼]

The discovery of extrasolar planets is one of the greatest achievements of modern astronomy. The detection of planets that vary widely in mass demonstrates that extrasolar planets of low mass exist. In this paper, we describe a mission, called Darwin, whose primary goal is the search for, and characterization of, terrestrial extrasolar planets and the search for life. Accomplishing the mission objectives will require collaborative science across disciplines, including astrophysics, planetary sciences, chemistry, and microbiology. Darwin is designed to detect rocky planets similar to Earth and perform spectroscopic analysis at mid-infrared wavelengths (6-20 mum), where an advantageous contrast ratio between star and planet occurs. The baseline mission is projected to last 5 years and consists of approximately 200 individual target stars. Among these, 25-50 planetary systems can be studied spectroscopically, which will include the search for gases such as CO[SUB]2[/SUB], H[SUB]2[/SUB]O, CH[SUB]4[/SUB], and O[SUB]3[/SUB]. Many of the key technologies required for the construction of Darwin have already been demonstrated, and the remainder are estimated to be mature in the near future. Darwin is a mission that will ignite intense interest in both the research community and the wider public. [less ▲]

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See detailPoussières chaudes dans les systèmes planétaires extrasolaires
Absil, Olivier ULg

Scientific conference (2009, March 10)

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See detailExozodiacal Disks
Hinz, Phillip; Millan-Gabet, Rafael; Absil, Olivier ULg et al

in Lawson, P. R.; Traub, W. A.; Unwin, S. C. (Eds.) Exoplanet Community Report (2009)

From the viewpoint of direct imaging of exoplanets in the visible or infrared, exozodi dust disks can be both good and bad. An exozodi disk is good if it has structures (cleared regions or resonant clumps ... [more ▼]

From the viewpoint of direct imaging of exoplanets in the visible or infrared, exozodi dust disks can be both good and bad. An exozodi disk is good if it has structures (cleared regions or resonant clumps) that suggest the gravitational presence of planets, however it is bad if the dust fills the instrumental field of view with brightness that swamps the signal from a planet. Unfortunately, it takes very little dust to compete with or overwhelm the light from a planet: an Earth‐twin signal is roughly equal to a 0.1‐AU patch of Solar‐System‐twin zodi, in the visible or infrared. Thus, exozodi measurements are extremely important, but they are also difficult to make. Current limits of detection, in units of the Solar‐System brightness, are a few hundred using the Spitzer Space Telescope, about one hundred with the Keck Interferometer (KI), and about 10 expected from the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI). A small coronagraph or small interferometer in space is needed in order to reach the sensitivity required to detect the glow at the level of our own Solar System. [less ▲]

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See detailInfrared Imaging
Danchi, William; Lawson, Peter; Absil, Olivier ULg et al

in Lawson, P. R.; Traub, W. A.; Unwin, S. C. (Eds.) Exoplanet Community Report (2009)

A mid‐infrared mission would enable the detection of biosignatures of Earth‐like exoplanets around more than 150 nearby stars. The mid‐infrared spectral region is attractive for characterizing exoplanets ... [more ▼]

A mid‐infrared mission would enable the detection of biosignatures of Earth‐like exoplanets around more than 150 nearby stars. The mid‐infrared spectral region is attractive for characterizing exoplanets because contrast with the parent star brightness is more favorable than in the visible (10 million vs. 10 billion), and because mid‐infrared light probes deep into a planet’s troposphere. Furthermore, the mid‐infrared offers access to several strong molecular features that are key signs of life, and also provides a measure of the effective temperature and size of a planet. Taken together, an infrared mission plus a visible one would provide a nearly full picture of a planet, including signs of life; with a measure of mass from an astrometric mission, we would have a virtually complete picture. A small infrared mission would have several telescopes that are rigidly connected, with a science return from the detection and characterization of super‐Earth sized to larger planets near the HZ, plus a direct measure of the exozodi brightness in the HZ. In a large infrared mission, with formation‐flying telescopes, planets from an Earth‐twin and upwards in mass could be detected and characterized, as well as the exozodi. If proceeded by an astrometric mission, the detection phase could be skipped and the mission devoted to characterization, as in the visible case; lacking an astrometric mission, an infrared one could proceed alone, as was discussed for a visible coronograph, and with similar caveats. The technology needed for a large formation‐flying mission is similar to that for a small connected‐element one (e.g., cryogenics and detectors), with the addition of formationflying technology. The technology is now in hand to implement a probe‐scale mission; starlight suppression has even been demonstrated to meet the requirements of a flagship mission. However, additional development of formation‐flying technology is needed, particularly in‐space testing of sensors and guidance, navigation, and control algorithms. [less ▲]

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See detailPEGASE, an infrared interferometer to study stellar environments and low mass companions around nearby stars
Ollivier, M.; Absil, Olivier ULg; Allard, F. et al

in Experimental Astronomy (2009), 23

PEGASE is a mission dedicated to the exploration of the environment (including habitable zone) of young and solar-type stars (particularly those in the DARWIN catalogue) and the observation of low mass ... [more ▼]

PEGASE is a mission dedicated to the exploration of the environment (including habitable zone) of young and solar-type stars (particularly those in the DARWIN catalogue) and the observation of low mass companions around nearby stars. It is a space interferometer project composed of three free flying spacecraft, respectively featuring two 40 cm siderostats and a beam combiner working in the visible and near infrared. It has been proposed to ESA as an answer to the first ``Cosmic Vision'' call for proposals, as an M mission. The concept also enables full-scale demonstration of space nulling interferometry operation for DARWIN. [less ▲]

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See detailDarwin---an experimental astronomy mission to search for extrasolar planets
Cockell, Charles S; Herbst, Tom; Léger, Alain et al

in Experimental Astronomy (2009), 23

As a response to ESA call for mission concepts for its Cosmic Vision 2015--2025 plan, we propose a mission called Darwin. Its primary goal is the study of terrestrial extrasolar planets and the search for ... [more ▼]

As a response to ESA call for mission concepts for its Cosmic Vision 2015--2025 plan, we propose a mission called Darwin. Its primary goal is the study of terrestrial extrasolar planets and the search for life on them. In this paper, we describe different characteristics of the instrument. [less ▲]

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See detailDust in the inner regions of debris disks around A stars
Akeson, R. L.; Ciardi, D. R.; Millan-Gabet, R. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2009), 691

We present infrared interferometric observations of the inner regions of two A-star debris disks, beta Leo and zeta Lep, using the FLUOR instrument at the CHARA interferometer on both short (30 m) and ... [more ▼]

We present infrared interferometric observations of the inner regions of two A-star debris disks, beta Leo and zeta Lep, using the FLUOR instrument at the CHARA interferometer on both short (30 m) and long (> 200 m) baselines. For the target stars, the short-baseline visibilities are lower than expected for the stellar photosphere alone, while those of a check star, delta Leo, are not. We interpret this visibility offset of a few percent as a near-infrared (NIR) excess arising from dust grains which, due to the instrumental field of view, must be located within several AU of the central star. For beta Leo, the NIR excess-producing grains are spatially distinct from the dust which produces the previously known mid-infrared (MIR) excess. For zeta Lep, the NIR excess may be spatially associated with the MIR excess-producing material. We present simple geometric models which are consistent with the NIR and MIR excesses and show that for both objects, the NIR-producing material is most consistent with a thin ring of dust near the sublimation radius, with typical grain sizes smaller than the nominal radiation pressure blowout radius. Finally, we discuss possible origins of the NIR-emitting dust in the context of debris disk evolution models. [less ▲]

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See detailMatisse
Lopez, B.; Lagarde, S.; Wolf, S. et al

in Moorwood, 1 (Ed.) Science with the VLT in the ELT Era (2009)

MATISSE is foreseen as a mid-infrared spectro-interferometer combining the beams of up to four UTs/ATs of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). MATISSE will measure closure phase relations and ... [more ▼]

MATISSE is foreseen as a mid-infrared spectro-interferometer combining the beams of up to four UTs/ATs of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). MATISSE will measure closure phase relations and thus offer an efficient capability for image reconstruction in the L, M and N bands of the mid-infrared domain. [less ▲]

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See detailMATISSE Science Cases
Wolf, S.; Lopez, B.; Jaffe, W. et al

in Moorwood, A. (Ed.) Science with the VLT in the ELT Era (2009)

MATISSE is foreseen as a mid-infrared spectro-interferometric instrument combining the beams of up to four UTs/ATs of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). MATISSE will measure closure phase ... [more ▼]

MATISSE is foreseen as a mid-infrared spectro-interferometric instrument combining the beams of up to four UTs/ATs of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). MATISSE will measure closure phase relations and thus offer an efficient capability for image reconstruction. In addition to this, MATISSE will open 2 new observing windows at the VLTI: the L and M band in addition to the N band. Furthermore, the instrument will offer the possibility to perform simultaneous observations in separate bands. MATISSE will also provide several spectroscopic modes. In summary, MATISSE can be seen as a successor of MIDI by providing imaging capabilities in the mid-infrared domain (for a more detailed description of MATISSE see Lopez et al., these proceedings). [less ▲]

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See detailProspects for Near-infrared Characterisation of Hot Jupiters with the VLTI Spectro-imager (VSI)
Renard, Stéphanie; Absil, Olivier ULg; Berger, Jean-Philippe et al

in Moorwood, A. (Ed.) Science with the VLT in the ELT Era (2009)

Since the discovery of the first exoplanet around 51 Pegasi, the study of planetary systems receives an increasing attention, with the development and test of more and more detection techniques. Among the ... [more ▼]

Since the discovery of the first exoplanet around 51 Pegasi, the study of planetary systems receives an increasing attention, with the development and test of more and more detection techniques. Among the direct detection techniques, interferometry is one of the most promising for the near future. It already provides the required angular resolution, but the dynamic range needs to be improved. The detection and characterisation of extrasolar planets is one of the main science cases of the 2nd generation VLTI Spectro-Imager instrument (VSI). The goal of this work is to study the feasibility of obtaining near-infrared spectra of bright extrasolar giant planets (EGP) with VSI. [less ▲]

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See detailMilli-arcsecond Astrophysics with VSI, the VLTI Spectro-imager in the ELT Era
Malbet, F.; Buscher, D.; Weigelt, G. et al

in Moorwood, Alan (Ed.) Science with the VLT in the ELT Era (2009)

Nowadays, compact sources relatively warm like surfaces of nearby stars, circumstellar environments of stars from early stages to the most evolved ones and surroundings of active galactic nuclei can be ... [more ▼]

Nowadays, compact sources relatively warm like surfaces of nearby stars, circumstellar environments of stars from early stages to the most evolved ones and surroundings of active galactic nuclei can be investigated at milli-arcsecond scales only with the VLT in its interferometric mode. We propose a spectro-imager, named VSI (VLTI spectro-imager), which is capable to probe these sources both over spatial and spectral scales in the near-infrared domain. This instrument will provide information complementary to what is obtained at the same time with ALMA at different wavelengths and the extreme large telescopes. [less ▲]

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See detailDIGIT, GASPS, DEBRIS and DUNES: four HERSCHEL Open Time Key Programs to survey the dust cycle in circumstellar disks
Augereau, J.-C.; Absil, Olivier ULg; Bouvier, J. et al

in Charbonnel, C.; Combes, F.; Samadi, R. (Eds.) SF2A-2008 (2008, November 01)

Four accepted HERSCHEL open time key programs, DIGIT, GASPS, DEBRIS and DUNES, will study the evolution of the dust grains in circumstellar disks around young and Main Sequence stars. There is a strong ... [more ▼]

Four accepted HERSCHEL open time key programs, DIGIT, GASPS, DEBRIS and DUNES, will study the evolution of the dust grains in circumstellar disks around young and Main Sequence stars. There is a strong implication of the french community in these four projects which represent a total of 930 hours (>38 days) of her\ observing time. The DIGIT and GASPS projects will focus on the first stages of planet formation, while the DEBRIS and DUNES projects will search for extra-solar Kuiper Belt analogs around nearby Main Sequence stars. In this paper, we give an overview of the scientific goals of the four projects and of the numerical tools that we will be providing to the teams to model and interpret the her\ observations from these programs. [less ▲]

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See detailALADDIN performance model
Absil, Olivier ULg

Conference (2008, October 13)

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See detailNulling interferometry: performance comparison between space and ground-based sites for exozodiacal disc detection
Defrere, Denis ULg; Absil, Olivier ULg; Coudé Du Foresto, V. et al

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2008), 490

Context: Characterising the circumstellar dust around nearby main sequence stars is a necessary step in understanding the planetary formation process and is crucial for future life-finding space missions ... [more ▼]

Context: Characterising the circumstellar dust around nearby main sequence stars is a necessary step in understanding the planetary formation process and is crucial for future life-finding space missions such as ESA's Darwin or NASA's terrestrial planet finder (TPF). Besides paving the technological way to Darwin/TPF, the space-based infrared interferometers Pegase and FKSI (Fourier-Kelvin Stellar Interferometer) will be valuable scientific precursors. Aims: We investigate the performance of Pegase and FKSI for exozodiacal disc detection and compare the results with ground-based nulling interferometers. Methods: We used the GENIEsim software (Absil et al. 2006, A&A, 448, 787) which was designed and validated to study the performance of ground-based nulling interferometers. The software has been adapted to simulate the performance of space-based nulling interferometers by disabling all atmospheric effects and by thoroughly implementing the perturbations induced by payload vibrations in the ambient space environment. Results: Despite using relatively small telescopes (<=0.5 m), Pegase and FKSI are very efficient for exozodiacal disc detection. They are capable of detecting exozodiacal discs 5 and 1 time respectively, as dense as the solar zodiacal cloud, and they outperform any ground-based instrument. Unlike Pegase, FKSI can achieve this sensitivity for most targets of the Darwin/TPF catalogue thanks to an appropriate combination of baseline length and observing wavelength. The sensitivity of Pegase could, however, be significantly boosted by considering a shorter interferometric baseline length. Conclusions: Besides their main scientific goal (characterising hot giant extrasolar planets), the space-based nulling interferometers Pegase and FKSI will be very efficient in assessing within a few minutes the level of circumstellar dust in the habitable zone around nearby main sequence stars down to the density of the solar zodiacal cloud. These space-based interferometers would be complementary to Antarctica-based instruments in terms of sky coverage and would be ideal instruments for preparing future life-finding space missions. [less ▲]

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