Planet Formation research is blooming in an era where we are moving from speaking about “protoplanetary disks” to “planet forming disks” (1). However, this transition is still motivated by indirect (but convincing) hints. Up to date, the direct detection of planets “in the making” remains elusive with the remarkable exception of PDS 70 b and c (2; 3; 4). The scarcity of detections is attributable to technical challenges, and even for the rare jewels that we can detect, characterization is unachievable. The next step in this direction demands from near to mid-infrared interferometry to jump from ∼100 m baselines to ∼1 km, and from very few telescopes to 20 or more (PFI like concepts, (5)). This transition needs for more affordable near to mid-infrared telescopes to be designed. Since the driving cost for such telescopes resides on the primary mirror, in particular scaling with its diameter and weight, our approach to tackle this problem relies on the production of low-cost light mirrors
In the manufacturing process of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) mirrors (replicated from a mandrel) the orientation of the unidirectional carbon fiber layers (layup) has a direct in influence on different aspects of the final product, like its general (large scale) shape and local deformations. In particular, optical methods used to evaluate the surface's quality, can reveal the presence of print-through, a very common issue in CFPR manufacture. In practical terms, the surface's irregularities induced, among other artifacts, by print-through, produce unwanted scattering effects, which are usually mitigated applying extra layers of different materials to the surface. Since one of the main goals of CFPR mirrors is to decrease the final weight of the whole mirror system, adding more material goes in the opposite direction of that. For this reason a different layup method is being developed with the goal of decreasing print-through and improving sphericity while maintaining mechanical qualities and without the addition of extra material in the process.
The surface quality of replicated CFRP mirrors is ideally expected to be as good as the mandrel from which they are manufactured. In practice, a number of factors produce surface imperfections in the final mirrors at different scales. To understand where this errors come from, and develop improvements to the manufacturing process accordingly, a wide range of metrology techniques and quality control methods must be adopted. Mechanical and optical instruments are employed to characterise glass mandrels and CFRP replicas at different spatial frequency ranges. Modal analysis is used to identify large scale aberrations, complemented with a spectral analysis at medium and small scales. It is seen that astigmatism is the dominant aberration in the CFRP replicas. On the medium and small scales, we have observed that fiber print-through and surface roughness can be improved significantly by an extra resin layer over the replica's surface, but still some residual irregularities are present.
The Planet Formation Imager (PFI) is a near- and mid-infrared interferometer project with the driving science goal of imaging directly the key stages of planet formation, including the young proto-planets themselves. Here, we will present an update on the work of the Science Working Group (SWG), including new simulations of dust structures during the assembly phase of planet formation and quantitative detection efficiencies for accreting and non-accreting young exoplanets as a function of mass and age. We use these results to motivate two reference PFI designs consisting of a) twelve 3m telescopes with a maximum baseline of 1.2km focused on young exoplanet imaging and b) twelve 8m telescopes optimized for a wider range of young exoplanets and protoplanetary disk imaging out to the 150K H2O ice line. Armed with 4 x 8m telescopes, the ESO/VLTI can already detect young exoplanets in principle and projects such as MATISSE, Hi-5 and Heimdallr are important PFI pathfinders to make this possible. We also discuss the state of technology development needed to make PFI more affordable, including progress towards new designs for inexpensive, small field-of-view, large aperture telescopes and prospects for Cubesat-based space interferometry.
In the era of high-angular resolution astronomical instrumentation, where long and very long baseline interferometers (constituted by many, ∼20 or more, telescopes) are expected to work not only in the millimeter and submillimeter domain, but also at near and mid infrared wavelengths (experiments such as the Planet Formation Imager, PFI, see Monnier et al. 2018 for an update on its design); any promising strategy to alleviate the costs of the individual telescopes involved needs to be explored. In a recent collaboration between engineers, experimental physicists and astronomers in Valparaiso, Chile, we are gaining expertise in the production of light carbon fiber polymer reinforced mirrors. The working principle consists in replicating a glass, or other substrate, mandrel surface with the mirrored adequate curvature, surface characteristics and general shape. Once the carbon fiber base has hardened, previous studies have shown that it can be coated (aluminum) using standard coating processes/techniques designed for glass-based mirrors. The resulting surface quality is highly dependent on the temperature and humidity control among other variables. Current efforts are focused on improving the smoothness of the resulting surfaces to meet near/mid infrared specifications, overcoming, among others, possible deteriorations derived from the replication process. In a second step, at the validation and quality control stage, the mirrors are characterized using simple/traditional tools like spherometers (down to micron precision), but also an optical bench with a Shack-Hartman wavefront sensor. This research line is developed in parallel with a more classical glass-based approach, and in both cases we are prototyping at the small scale of few tens of cms. We here present our progress on these two approaches.
The Planet Formation Imager (PFI) project aims to provide a strong scientific vision for ground-based optical astronomy beyond the upcoming generation of Extremely Large Telescopes. We make the case that a breakthrough in angular resolution imaging capabilities is required in order to unravel the processes involved in planet formation. PFI will be optimised to provide a complete census of the protoplanet population at all stellocentric radii and over the age range from 0.1 to ~100 Myr. Within this age period, planetary systems undergo dramatic changes and the final architecture of planetary systems is determined. Our goal is to study the planetary birth on the natural spatial scale where the material is assembled, which is the "Hill Sphere" of the forming planet, and to characterise the protoplanetary cores by measuring their masses and physical properties. Our science working group has investigated the observational characteristics of these young protoplanets as well as the migration mechanisms that might alter the system architecture. We simulated the imprints that the planets leave in the disk and study how PFI could revolutionise areas ranging from exoplanet to extragalactic science. In this contribution we outline the key science drivers of PFI and discuss the requirements that will guide the technology choices, the site selection, and potential science/technology tradeoffs.