Exoplanetary biosignatures, molecular compounds which indicate a likelihood of extraterrestrial life, can be detected by highly sensitive spectroscopy of starlight which passes through the atmospheres of exoplanets towards the Earth. Such sensitive measurements can only be accomplished with the next generation of telescopes, leading to a corresponding increase in cost and complexity spectrometers. Integrated astrophotonic instruments are well-suited to address these challenges through their low-cost fabrication and compact geometries. We propose and characterize an integrated photonic gas sensor which detects the correlation between the near-infrared quasi-periodic vibronic absorption line spectrum of a gas and a silicon waveguide ring resonator transmittance comb. This technique enables lock-in amplification detection for real-time detection of faint biosignatures for reduced observation timescales and rapid exoplanetary atmosphere surveys using highly compact instrumentation.
The Multi-site All-sky CAmeRA MASCARA is an instrument concept consisting of several stations across the globe,
with each station containing a battery of low-cost cameras to monitor the near-entire sky at each location. Once all
stations have been installed, MASCARA will be able to provide a nearly 24-hr coverage of the complete dark sky, down
to magnitude 8, at sub-minute cadence. Its purpose is to find the brightest transiting exoplanet systems, expected in the
V=4-8 magnitude range - currently not probed by space- or ground-based surveys. The bright/nearby transiting planet
systems, which MASCARA will discover, will be the key targets for detailed planet atmosphere observations. We
present studies on the initial design of a MASCARA station, including the camera housing, domes, and computer
equipment, and on the photometric stability of low-cost cameras showing that a precision of 0.3-1% per hour can be
readily achieved. We plan to roll out the first MASCARA station before the end of 2013. A 5-station MASCARA can
within two years discover up to a dozen of the brightest transiting planet systems in the sky.