The Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) is now largely in place at the Keck Observatory, and functionalities and
performance are increasing with time. The main goal of the KIN is to examine nearby stars for the presence of exozodiacal
emission, but other sources of circumstellar emission, such as disks around young stars, and hot exoplanets are
also potential targets. To observe with the KIN in nulling mode, knowledge of the intrinsic source spectrum is essential,
because of the wide variety of wavelengths involved in the various control loops - the AO system operates at visible
wavelengths, the pointing loops use the J-band, the high-speed fringe tracker operates in the K-band, and the nulling
observations take place in the N-band. Thus, brightness constraints apply at all of these wavelengths. In addition, source
structure plays a role at both K-band and N-band, through the visibility. In this talk, the operation of the KIN is first
briefly described, and then the sensitivity and performance of the KIN is summarized, with the aim of presenting an
overview of the parameter space accessible to the nuller. Finally, some of the initial observations obtained with the KIN
The Keck Interferometer links the two 10m Keck Telescopes located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It was the first 10m
class, fully AO equipped interferometer to enter operation. Further, it is the first large interferometer to implement a
nuller, whereby the on axis light from a bright point source (e.g. a star) can be removed interferometrically, allowing
study of light from nearby, low contrast sources (e.g. exo-zodiacal dust).
This paper describes the control system we have implemented to enable operation of the Keck interferometer nuller. We
give a general overview of the control system, plus details of how control differs from the already implemented and
operational, standard visibility science mode of the interferometer. The nuller is challenging in its requirements for
control because of the necessary control precision and the complexity of the number of points of control. We have
implemented some novel control methods to meet these requirements and we describe those here.
The Keck Interferometer Nuller is designed to detect faint off-axis mid-infrared light a few tens to a few hundreds of milliarcseconds from a bright central star. The starlight is suppressed by destructive combination along the long (85 m) baseline, which produces a fringe spacing of 25 mas at a wavelength of 10 μm, with the central null crossing the position of the star. The strong, variable mid-infrared background is subtracted using interferometric phase chopping along the short (5 m) baseline. This paper presents an overview of the observing and data reduction strategies used to produce a calibrated measurement of the off-axis light. During the observations, the instrument cycles rapidly through several calibration and measurement steps, in order to monitor and stabilize the phases of the fringes produced by the various baselines, and to derive the fringe intensity at the constructive peak and destructive null along the long baseline. The data analysis involves removing biases and coherently demodulating the short-baseline fringe with the long-baseline fringe tuned to alternate between constructive and destructive phases, combining the results of many measurements to improve the sensitivity, and estimating the part of the null leakage signal which is associated with the finite angular size of the central star. Comparison of the results of null measurements on science target and calibrator stars permits the instrumental leakage - the "system null leakage" - to be removed and the off-axis light to be measured.
Water vapor is the dominant source of randomly-changing atmospheric dispersion on timescales of seconds to minutes in the near- and mid-infrared. The dispersion changes are sufficient to limit the performance of the Keck Nuller unless steps are taken to measure and compensate for them. Here we present the first measurements of water vapor differential column fluctuations with the mid-infrared Keck Nuller and its near-infrared fringe tracker, taken in October 2005, and discuss theoretical and practical aspects of our dispersion feedforward implementation. The data show much larger fluctuations than were seen in median Mauna Kea conditions measured at radio wavelengths, and probably account for the generally poor performance of the Nuller during the observing run. The measurements in the two bands show strong correlations, indicating that the planned feedforward of the near-infrared value to stabilize the dispersion in the mid-infrared will substantially reduce the residual dispersion fluctuations seen by the Nuller.
Direct detection of planets around nearby stars requires the development of high-contrast imaging techniques, because of their very different respective fluxes. We thus investigated the innovative coronagraphic approach based on the use of a four-quadrant phase mask (FQPM). Simulations showed that, combined with high-level wavefront correction on an unobscured off-axis section of a large telescope, this method allows high-contrast imaging very close to stars, with detection capability superior to that of a traditional coronagraph. A FQPM instrument was thus built to test the feasibility of near-neighbor observations with our new off-axis approach on a ground-based telescope. In June 2005, we deployed our instrument to the Palomar 200-inch telescope, using existing facilities as much as possible for rapid implementation. In these initial observations, using data processing techniques specific to FQPM coronagraphs, we reached extinction levels of the order of 200:1. Here we discuss our simulations and on-sky results obtained so far.
Direct detection of planets around nearby stars requires the development of high-contrast imaging techniques, because of their very different respective fluxes. This led us to investigate the new coronagraphic approach based on the use of a four-quadrant phase mask (FQPM). Combined with high-level wavefront correction on an unobscured off-axis section of a large telescope, this method allows high-contrast imaging very close to stars. Calculations indicate that for a given ground-based on-axis telescope, use of such an off-axis coronagraph provides a near-neighbor detection capability superior to that of a traditional coronagraph utilizing the full telescope aperture. A near-infrared laboratory experiment was first used to test our FQPM devices, and a rejection of 2000:1 was achieved. We next built an FQPM instrument to test the feasibility of near-neighbor observations with our new off-axis approach on a ground-based telescope. In June 2005, we deployed our instrument to the Palomar 200-inch telescope, using existing facilities as much as possible for rapid implementation. In these initial observations, stars were rejected to about the 100:1 level. Here we discuss our laboratory and on-sky experiments, and the results obtained so far.
The Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) will be used to examine nearby stellar systems for the presence of circumstellar exozodiacal emission. A successful pre-ship review was held for the KIN in June 2004, after which the KIN was shipped to the Keck Observatory. The integration of the KIN's many sub-systems on the summit of Mauna Kea, and initial on-sky testing of the system, has occupied the better part of the past year. This paper describes the KIN system-level configuration, from both the hardware and control points of view, as well as the current state of integration of the system and the measurement approach to be used. During the most recent on-sky engineering runs in May and July 2005, all of the sub-systems necessary to measure a narrowband null were installed and operational, and the full nulling measurement cycle was carried out on a star for the first time.
The first high-dynamic-range interferometric mode planned to come on line at the Keck Observatory is mid-infrared nulling. This observational mode, which is based on the cancellation of the on-axis starlight arriving at the twin Keck telescopes, will be used to examine nearby stellar systems for the presence of circumstellar exozodiacal emission. This paper describes the system level layout of the Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN), as well as the final performance levels demonstrated in the laboratory integration and test phase at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory prior to shipment of the nuller hardware to the Keck Observatory in mid-June 2004. On-sky testing and observation with the mid-infrared nuller are slated to begin in August 2004.
A tabletop rotational-shearing interferometer experiment has been constructed and operated at JPL to serve as a testbed for the mid-infrared (~10 μm) nulling beam combiners on the Keck Interferometer and the Terrestrial Planet Finder. The testbed is a pupil-plane combiner in which destructive combination of the incoming wavefronts is achieved using a rooftop mirror system in which the polarization vector is flipped along the vertical axis on one arm and the horizontal axis on the other. The optical pathlength along one arm is adjustable using a linear stage driven by picomotor and piezoelectric actuators. The combined light is focussed onto a single-pixel LN2-cooled HgCdTe detector. In order to provide adequate sensitivity in the presence of the very bright thermal emission from the room-temperature optics, the light source is modulated and the output is demodulated using a lock-in amplifier. The optical pathlength difference (OPD) is stabilized under computer control by slowly dithering the actuated arm and balancing the leakage signal on either side of the null. The system has produced a stabilized null depth of < 10-4 using a diode laser source emitting at a wavelength of 9.2 μm, and transient nulls of 10-2 with a broadband thermal IR source in a 6.4% optical bandpass.
The control of longitudinal dispersion, which determines the position of the null fringe as a function of wavelength, is central to the problem of producing deep broadband interferometric nulls. The dispersion is the sum of terms due to environmental factors such as the dry-air and water-vapor atmospheric seeing, the unbalanced air column due to the unequal delay-line paths between the telescopes the combiner, and to the distance from the central fringe. The difference between an achromatic nuller and a normal constructive combiner operating at its first (chromatic) null can be thought of as an added longitudinal dispersion, which for the case of the Keck Interferometer is smaller than the environmental terms. We demonstrate that the sum of these effects can be adequately compensated by an appropriate thickness of ZnSe combined with an additional achromatic pathlength. The Keck Interferometer nulling combiners take advantage of this result. They are intrinsically constructive combiners made to produce achromatic nulls by inserting a ZnSe dispersion corrector into each of the four input beams. We describe the null fringe stabilization control algorithm and present calculations of the required loop bandwidth and precision. A potentially important advantage of the present approach is that the system will be able to function as either a destructive or constructive combiner, depending on the value of a single control-loop parameter (the target fringe phase).
We simulate the actions of a coronagraph matched to diffraction-limited adaptive optics (AO) systems on the Calypso 1.2 m, Palomar Hale 5 m and Gemini 8.1 m telescopes, and identify useful parameter ranges for AO coronagraphy on these systems. We model the action of adaptive wavefront correction with a tapered, high-pass filter in spatial frequency rather than a hard low frequency cutoff, and estimate the minimum number of AO channels required to produce sufficient image quality for coronagraphic suppression within a few diffraction widths of a central bright object (as is relevant to e.g., brown dwarf searches near late-type dwarf stars). We explore the effect of varying the occulting image- plane stop size and shape, and examine the trade-off between throughput and suppression of the image halo and Airy rings. We discuss our simulations in the context of results from the 241-channel Palomar Hale AO coronagraph system, and suggest approaches for future AO coronagraphic instruments on large telescopes.
The Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI) is an infrared, phase-tracking interferometer in operation at Palomar Mountain since July 1995. It was funded by NASA for the purpose of developing techniques and methodologies for doing narrowangle astrometry for the purpose of detecting extrasolar planets. The instrument employs active fringe trackingin the infrared (2.0-2.4 μm) to monitor fringe phase. It is a dual-star interferometer; it is able to measure fringes on two separate stars simultaneously. An end-to-end heterodyne laser metrology system is used to monitor the optical path length of the starlight. Recently completed engineering upgrades have improved the initial instrument performance. These upgrades are:extended wavelength coverage, a single mode fiber for spatial filtering, vacuum pipes to relay the beams, accelerometers on the siderostat mirrors and a new baseline. Results of recent astrometry data indicate the instrument is approaching the astrometric limit as set by the atmosphere.