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16 September 2015 How to directly image a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri with a ~30-45cm space telescope
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Abstract
Several mission concepts are being studied to directly image planets around nearby stars. It is commonly thought that directly imaging a potentially habitable exoplanet around a Sun-like star requires space telescopes with apertures of at least 1m. A notable exception to this is Alpha Centauri (A and B), which is an extreme outlier among FGKM stars in terms of apparent habitable zone size: the habitable zones are ~3x wider in apparent size than around any other FGKM star. This enables a ~30-45cm visible light space telescope equipped with a modern high performance coronagraph or starshade to resolve the habitable zone at high contrast and directly image any potentially habitable planet that may exist in the system. We presents a brief analysis of the astrophysical and technical challenges involved with direct imaging of Alpha Centauri with a small telescope and describe two new technologies that address some of the key technical challenges. In particular, the raw contrast requirements for such an instrument can be relaxed to 1e-8 if the mission spends 2 years collecting tens of thousands of images on the same target, enabling a factor of 500-1000 speckle suppression in post processing using a new technique called Orbital Difference Imaging (ODI). The raw light leak from both stars is controllable with a special wavefront control algorithm known as Multi-Star Wavefront Control (MSWC), which independently suppresses diffraction and aberrations from both stars using independent modes on the deformable mirror. We also show an example of a small coronagraphic mission concept to take advantage of this opportunity.
© (2015) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
Ruslan Belikov, Eduardo Bendek, Sandrine Thomas, Jared Males, and Julien Lozi "How to directly image a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri with a ~30-45cm space telescope", Proc. SPIE 9605, Techniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets VII, 960517 (16 September 2015); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2188732
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