The presence of large amounts of dust in the habitable zones of nearby stars is a significant obstacle for future exo-Earth imaging missions. We executed the HOSTS (Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems) survey to determine the typical amount of such exozodiacal dust around a sample of nearby main sequence stars. The majority of the data have been analyzed and we present here an update of our ongoing work. Nulling interferometry in N band was used to suppress the bright stellar light and to detect faint, extended circumstellar dust emission. We present an overview of the latest results from our ongoing work. We find seven new N band excesses in addition to the high confidence confirmation of three that were previously known. We find the first detections around Sun-like stars and around stars without previously known circumstellar dust. Our overall detection rate is 23%. The inferred occurrence rate is comparable for early type and Sun-like stars, but decreases from 71<sup>+11 -20</sup>% for stars with previously detected mid- to far-infrared excess to 11<sup>+9 -4</sup>% for stars without such excess, confirming earlier results at high confidence. For completed observations on individual stars, our sensitivity is five to ten times better than previous results. Assuming a lognormal luminosity function of the dust, we find upper limits on the median dust level around all stars without previously known mid to far infrared excess of 11.5 zodis at 95% confidence level. The corresponding upper limit for Sun-like stars is 16 zodis. An LBTI vetted target list of Sun-like stars for exo-Earth imaging would have a corresponding limit of 7.5 zodis. We provide important new insights into the occurrence rate and typical levels of habitable zone dust around main sequence stars. Exploiting the full range of capabilities of the LBTI provides a critical opportunity for the detailed characterization of a sample of exozodiacal dust disks to understand the origin, distribution, and properties of the dust.
The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) can perform Fizeau interferometry in the focal plane, which accesses spatial information out to the LBT's full 22.7-m edge-to-edge baseline. This mode has previously been used to obtain science data, but has been limited to observations where the optical path difference (OPD) between the two beams is not controlled, resulting in unstable fringes on the science detectors. To maximize the science return, we are endeavoring to stabilize the OPD and tip-tilt variations and make the LBTI Fizeau mode optimized and routine. Here we outline the optical configuration of LBTI's Fizeau mode and our strategy for commissioning this observing mode.
The brightness and variability of the atmosphere in the thermal infrared poses obstacles to precision photometry measurements. The need to remove atmospheric effects calls for the use of a comparison star, but it is usually impossible to fit both science and comparison targets on current long-wavelength (>2 μm) detectors. We present a new pointing mode at the Large Binocular Telescope, which has twin 8.4-m primary mirrors that can be pointed up to ~2 arcminutes apart and allow the placement of both targets on a small-field infrared detector. We present an observation of the primary transit of an exoplanet in front of its host star, and use it to provide preliminary constraints on the attainable photometric precision.
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.
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.
Transition disks, protoplanetary disks with inner clearings, are promising objects in which to directly image forming planets. The high contrast imaging technique of non-redundant masking is well posed to detect planetary mass companions at several to tens of AU in nearby transition disks. We present non-redundant masking observations of the T Cha and LkCa 15 transition disks, both of which host posited sub-stellar mass companions. However, due to a loss of information intrinsic to the technique, observations of extended sources (e.g. scattered light from disks) can be misinterpreted as moving companions. We discuss tests to distinguish between these two scenarios, with applications to the T Cha and LkCa 15 observations. We argue that a static, forward-scattering disk can explain the T Cha data, while LkCa 15 is best explained by multiple orbiting companions.
The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) is a strategic instrument of the LBT designed for highsensitivity, high-contrast, and high-resolution infrared (1.5-13 μm) 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.