The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) has the longest baseline in the world|22.7 m|for performing astronomical interferometry in Fizeau mode, which involves beam combination in a focal plane and preserves a wide field-of-view. LBTI can operate in this mode at wavelengths of 1.5-5 and 8-12 μm, making it a unique platform for carrying out high-resolution imaging of circumstellar disks, and possibly searches for planets, in the thermal infrared. Over the past five years, LBTI has carried out a considerable number of interferometric observations by combining the beams near a pupil plane to carry out nulling interferometry. This mode is useful for measuring small luminosity level offsets, such as those of exozodiacal dust disks. The Fizeau mode, by contrast, is more useful for generating an image of the target because it has more uv plane coverage. However, the Fizeau mode is still in an ongoing process of commissioning. Sensitive Fizeau observations require active phase control, increased automation, and the removal of non-common-path (NCP) differential aberrations. These maximize the fringe contrast, enable longer integrations, and reduce time overheads. We are in the process of writing a correction loop to remove NCP aberrations, and have carried out tests on old and synthetic data. We have also carried out on-sky Fizeau engineering tests in 2018B and 2019A. In this article, we share lessons learned and strategies developed as a result of these tests.
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+11 -20% for stars with previously detected mid- to far-infrared excess to 11+9 -4% 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 Arizona Lenslet for Exoplanet Spectroscopy (ALES) has been conceived of as an integral field spectrograph (IFS) that can be integrated with the existing 1-5 micron imaging camera LBTI/LMIRcam. Retrofitting an IFS to an existing camera poses interesting optical design issues. We have developed four reflective magnifier designs to create the proper scale for each spaxel of the IFS across the operational wavelengths of ALES. The lenslet design utilizes the flexible nature of silicon etching to provide aberration correction of images across the field of view that are introduced by inserting these magnifiers into the existing LMIRcam optical system. Finally, direct vision prism designs have been developed to provide suitable dispersion modes for the reference science cases of ALES.
The Arizona Lenslets for Exoplanet Spectroscopy (ALES) is the world’s first AO-fed thermal infrared integral field spectrograph, mounted inside the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) on the LBT. An initial mode of ALES allows 3-4 μm spectra at R 20 with 0.026” spaxels over a 1”x1” field-of-view. We are in the process of upgrading ALES with additional wavelength ranges, spectral resolutions, and plate scales allowing a broad suite of science that takes advantage of ALES’s unique ability to work at wavelengths >2 microns, and at the diffraction limit of the LBT’s full 23.8 meter aperture.
The integral field spectrograph configuration of the LMIRCam science camera within the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) facilitates 2 to 5 µm spectroscopy of directly imaged gas-giant exoplanets. The mode, dubbed ALES, comprises magnification optics, a lenslet array, and direct-vision prisms, all of which are included within filter wheels in LMIRCam. Our observing approach includes manual adjustments to filter wheel positions to optimize alignment, on/off nodding to track sky-background variations, and wavelength calibration using narrow band filters in series with ALES optics. For planets with separations outside our 1”x1” field of view, we use a three-point nod pattern to visit the primary, secondary and sky. To minimize overheads we select the longest exposure times and nod periods given observing conditions, especially sky brightness and variability. Using this strategy we collected several datasets of low-mass companions to nearby stars.
We present the data reduction pipeline, MEAD, for Arizona Lenslets for Exoplanet Spectroscopy (ALES), the first thermal infrared integral field spectrograph designed for high-contrast imaging. ALES is an upgrade of LMIRCam, the 1 - 5 μm imaging camera for the Large Binocular Telescope, capable of observing astronomical objects in the thermal infrared (3 - 5 μm) to produce simultaneous spatial and spectral data cubes. The pipeline is currently designed to perform L-band (2.8 - 4.2 μm) data cube reconstruction, relying on methods used extensively by current near-infrared integral field spectrographs. ALES data cube reconstruction on each spectra uses an optimal extraction method. The calibration unit comprises a thermal infrared source, a monochromator and an optical diffuser designed to inject specific wavelengths of light into LBTI to evenly illuminate the pupil plane and ALES lenslet array with monochromatic light. Not only does the calibration unit facilitate wavelength calibration for ALES and LBTI, but it also provides images of monochromatic point spread functions (PSFs). A linear combination of these monochromatic PSFs can be optimized to fit each spectrum in the least-square sense via x2 fitting.
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.
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 (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.
Integral field spectrographs are an important technology for exoplanet imaging, due to their ability to take spectra in a high-contrast environment, and improve planet detection sensitivity through spectral differential imaging. ALES is the first integral field spectrograph capable of imaging exoplanets from 3-5 μm, and will extend our ability to characterize self-luminous exoplanets into a wavelength range where they peak in brightness. ALES is installed inside LBTI/LMIRcam on the Large Binocular Telescope, taking advantage of existing AO systems, camera optics, and a HAWAII-2RG detector. The new optics that comprise ALES are a Keplerian magnifier, a silicon lenslet array with diffraction suppressing pinholes, a direct vision prism, and calibration optics. All of these components are installed in filter wheels making ALES a completely modular design. ALES saw first light at the LBT in June 2015.