Since its first light at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), GRAVITY has reached new regimes in optical interferometry, in terms of accuracy as well as sensitivity.1 GRAVITY is routinely doing phase referenced interferometry of objects fainter than K > 17 mag, which makes for example the galactic center black hole Sagittarius A*2 detectable 90 % of the times. However from SNR calculations we are confident that even a sensitivity limit of K ~ 19 mag is possible. We therefore try to push the limits of GRAVITY by improving the observations as well as the calibration and the data reduction. This has further improved the sensitivity limit to K > 18 mag in the beginning of this year. Here we present some work we are currently doing in order to reach the best possible sensitivity.
The use of optical fibers in astronomical instrumentation has been becoming more and more common. High transmission, polarization control, compact and easy routing are just a few of the advantages in this respect. But fibers also bring new challenges for the development of systems. During the assembly of the VLTI beam combiner GRAVITY different side effects of the fiber implementation had to be taken into account. In this work we summarize the corresponding phenomena ranging from the external factors influencing the fiber performance, like mechanical and temperature effects, to inelastic scattering within the fiber material.
The VLTI instrument GRAVITY combines the beams from four telescopes and provides phase-referenced imaging as well as precision-astrometry of order 10 μas by observing two celestial objects in dual-field mode. Their angular separation can be determined from their differential OPD (dOPD) when the internal dOPDs in the interferometer are known. Here, we present the general overview of the novel metrology system which performs these measurements. The metrology consists of a three-beam laser system and a homodyne detection scheme for three-beam interference using phase-shifting interferometry in combination with lock-in amplifiers. Via this approach the metrology system measures dOPDs on a nanometer-level.
GRAVITY is the four-beam, near-infrared, AO-assisted, fringe tracking, astrometric and imaging instrument for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). It is requiring the development of one of the most complex instrument software systems ever built for an ESO instrument. Apart from its many interfaces and interdependencies, one of the most challenging aspects is the overall performance and stability of this complex system. The three infrared detectors and the fast reflective memory network (RMN) recorder contribute a total data rate of up to 20 MiB/s accumulating to a maximum of 250 GiB of data per night. The detectors, the two instrument Local Control Units (LCUs) as well as the five LCUs running applications under TAC (Tools for Advanced Control) architecture, are interconnected with fast Ethernet, RMN fibers and dedicated fiber connections as well as signals for the time synchronization. Here we give a simplified overview of all subsystems of GRAVITY and their interfaces and discuss two examples of high-level applications during observations: the acquisition procedure and the gathering and merging of data to the final FITS file.
The GRAVITY Instrument Software (INS) is based on the common VLT Software Environment. In addition to the basic Instrument Control Software (ICS) which handles Motors, Shutters, Lamps, etc., it also includes three detector subsystems, several special devices, field bus devices, and various real time algorithms. The latter are implemented using ESO TAC (Tools for Advanced Control) and run at a frequency of up to 4 kHz. In total, the instrument has more than 100 ICS devices and runs on five workstations and seven vxWorks LCUs.
The laser metrology system in the GRAVITY instrument plays a crucial role in an attempt at high-precision narrow-angle astrometry. With a design goal of achieving 10 microarcseconds precision in astrometry, the system must measure the optical path difference between two beam combiners within GRAVITY to an accuracy of better than 5nm. However in its current design, some parts of the optical paths of the metrology system are not common to the optical paths of starlight (the science path) which it must measure with high accuracy. This state of the design is true for most but not all the baselines which will be used by the GRAVITY instrument. The additional non-common optical paths could produce inaccurate path length measurements and consequently inaccurate measurements of the differential phase between fringe packets of two nearby celestial objects, which is the main astrometric observable of the instrument. With reference to the stability and the sensitivity of the non-common paths, this paper describes the impact of a biased differential phase measurement on the narrowangle astrometry and the image reconstruction performance of the GRAVITY instrument. Several alternative designs are also discussed.
We present in this paper the design and characterisation of a new sub-system of the VLTI 2nd generation instrument GRAVITY: the Calibration Unit. The Calibration Unit provides all functions to test and calibrate the beam combiner instrument: it creates two artificial stars on four beams, and dispose of four delay lines with an internal metrology. It also includes artificial stars for the tip-tilt and pupil guiding systems, as well as four metrology pick-up diodes, for tests and calibration of the corresponding sub-systems. The calibration unit also hosts the reference targets to align GRAVITY to the VLTI, and the safety shutters to avoid the metrology light to propagate in the VLTI-lab. We present the results of the characterisation and validtion of these differrent sub-units.
GRAVITY is the second generation VLT Interferometer (VLTI) instrument for high-precision narrow-angle astrometry and phase-referenced interferometric imaging. The laser metrology system of GRAVITY is at the heart of its astrometric mode, which must measure the distance of 2 stars with a precision of 10 micro-arcseconds. This means the metrology has to measure the optical path difference between the two beam combiners of GRAVITY to a level of 5 nm. The metrology design presents some non-common paths that have consequently to be stable at a level of 1 nm. Otherwise they would impact the performance of GRAVITY. The various tests we made in the past on the prototype give us hints on the components responsible for this error, and on their respective contribution to the total error. It is however difficult to assess their exact origin from only OPD measurements, and therefore, to propose a solution to this problem. In this paper, we present the results of a semi-empirical modeling of the fibered metrology system, relying on theoretical basis, as well as on characterisations of key components. The modeling of the metrology system regarding various effects, e.g., temperature, waveguide heating or mechanical stress, will help us to understand how the metrology behave. The goals of this modeling are to 1) model the test set-ups and reproduce the measurements (as a validation of the modeling), 2) determine the origin of the non-common path errors, and 3) propose modifications to the current metrology design to reach the required 1nm stability.
The VLTI instrument GRAVITY will provide very powerful astrometry by combining the light from four tele- scopes for two objects simultaneously. It will measure the angular separation between the two astronomical objects to a precision of 10 μas. This corresponds to a differential optical path difference (dOPD) between the targets of few nanometers and the paths within the interferometer have to be maintained stable to that level. For this purpose, the novel metrology system of GRAVITY will monitor the internal dOPDs by means of phase- shifting interferometry. We present the four-step phase-shifting concept of the metrology with emphasis on the method used for calibrating the phase shifts. The latter is based on a phase-step insensitive algorithm which unambiguously extracts phases in contrast to other methods that are strongly limited by non-linearities of the phase-shifting device. The main constraint of this algorithm is to introduce a robust ellipse fitting routine. Via this approach we are able to measure phase shifts in the laboratory with a typical accuracy of λ=2000 or 1 nm of the metrology wavelength.
We present the installed and fully operational beam stabilization and fiber injection subsystem feeding the 2nd generation VLTI instrument GRAVITY. The interferometer GRAVITY requires an unprecedented stability of the VLTI optical train to achieve micro-arcsecond astrometry. For this purpose, GRAVITY contains four fiber coupler units, one per telescope. Each unit is equipped with actuators to stabilize the telescope beam in terms of tilt and lateral pupil displacement, to rotate the field, to adjust the polarization and to compensate atmospheric piston. A special roof-prism offers the possibility of on-axis as well as off-axis fringe tracking without changing the optical train. We describe the assembly, integration and alignment and the resulting optical quality and performance of the individual units. Finally, we present the closed-loop performance of the tip-tilt and pupil tracking achieved with the final systems in the lab.
GRAVITY is a second generation VLTI instrument, combining the light of four telescopes and two objects
simultaneously. The main goal is to obtain astrometrically accurate information. Besides correctly measured stellar
phases this requires the knowledge of the instrumental differential phase, which has to be measured optically during the
astronomical observations. This is the purpose of a dedicated metrology system. The GRAVITY metrology covers the
full optical path, from the beam combiners up to the reference points in the beam of the primary telescope mirror,
minimizing the systematic uncertainties and providing a proper baseline in astrometric terms. Two laser beams with a
fixed phase relation travel backward the whole optical chain, creating a fringe pattern in any plane close to a pupil. By
temporal encoding the phase information can be extracted at any point by means of flux measurements with photo
diodes. The reference points chosen sample the pupil at typical radii, eliminating potential systematics due differential
focus. We present the final design and the performance estimate, which is in accordance with the overall requirements
We present design results of the 2nd generation VLTI instrument GRAVITY beam stabilization and light injection
subsystems. Designed to deliver micro-arcsecond astrometry, GRAVITY requires an unprecedented stability of the
VLTI optical train. To meet the astrometric requirements, we have developed a dedicated 'laser guiding system',
correcting the longitudinal and lateral pupil position as well as the image jitter. The actuators for the correction are
provided by four 'fiber coupler' units located in the GRAVITY cryostat. Each fiber coupler picks the light of one
telescope and stabilizes the beam. Furthermore each unit provides field de-rotation, polarization analysis as well as
atmospheric piston correction. Using a novel roof-prism design offers the possibility of on-axis as well as off-axis fringe
tracking without changing the optical train. Finally the stabilized beam is injected with minimized losses into singlemode
fibers via parabolic mirrors. We present lab results of the first guiding- as well as the first fiber coupler prototype
regarding the closed loop performance and the optical quality. Based on the lab results we discuss the on-sky
performance of the system and the implications concerning the sensitivity of GRAVITY.