In the last years we have operated two very similar ultrafast photon counting photometers (Iqueye and Aqueye+) on different telescopes. The absolute time accuracy in time tagging the detected photon with these instruments is of the order of 500 ps for hours of observation, allowing us to obtain, for example, the most accurate ever light curve in visible light of the optical pulsars. Recently we adapted the two photometers for working together on two telescopes at Asiago (Italy), for realizing an Hanbury-Brown and Twiss Intensity Interferometry like experiment with two 3.9 km distant telescopes. In this paper we report about the status of the activity and on the very preliminary results of our first attempt to measure the photon intensity correlation.
Since a number of years our group is engaged in the design, construction and operation of instruments with very high time resolution in the optical band for applications to Quantum Astronomy and more conventional Astrophysics. Two instruments were built to perform photon counting with sub-nanosecond temporal accuracy. The first of the two, Aqueye+, is regularly mounted at the 1.8 m Copernicus telescope in Asiago, while the second one, Iqueye, was mounted at the ESO New Technology Telescope in Chile, and at the William Herschel Telescope and Telescopio Nazionale Galileo on the Roque (La Palma, Canary Islands). Both instruments deliver extraordinarily accurate results in optical pulsar timing. Recently, Iqueye was moved to Asiago to be mounted at the 1.2 m Galileo telescope to attempt, for the first time ever, experiments of optical intensity interferometry (à la Hanbury Brown and Twiss) on a baseline of a few kilometers, together with the Copernicus telescope. This application was one of the original goals for the development of our instrumentation. To carry out these measurements, we are experimenting a new way of coupling the instruments to the telescopes, by means of moderate-aperture, low-optical-attenuation multi-mode optical fibers with a double-clad design. Fibers are housed in dedicated optical interfaces attached to the focus of another instrument of the 1.8 m telescope (Aqueye+) or to the Nasmyth focus of the 1.2 m telescope (Iqueye). This soft-mount solution has the advantage to facilitate the mounting of the photon counters, to keep them under controlled temperature and humidity conditions (reducing potential systematics related to varying ambient conditions), and to mitigate scheduling requirements. Here we will describe the first successful implementation of the Asiago intensity interferometer and future plans for improving it.
ASTEP (Antarctica Search for Transiting ExoPlanets) is a pilot project that aims at searching and characterizing transiting exoplanets from Dome C in Antarctica and to qualify this site for photometry in the visible. Two instruments were installed at Dome C and ran for six winters in total. The analysis of the collected data is nearly complete. We present the operation of the instruments, and the technical challenges, limitations, and possible solutions in light of the data quality. The instruments performed continuous observations during the winters. Human interventions are required mainly for regular inspection and ice dust removal. A defrosting system is efficient at preventing and removing ice on the mirrors. The PSF FWHM is 4.5 arcsec on average which is 2.5 times larger than the specification, and is highly variable; the causes are the poor ground-level seeing, the turbulent plumes generated by the heating system, and to a lower extent the imperfect optical alignment and focusing, and some astigmatism. We propose solutions for each of these aspects that would largely increase the PSF stability. The astrometric and guiding precisions are satisfactory and would deserve only minor improvements. Major issues are encountered with the camera shutter which did not close properly after two winters; we minimized this issue by heating the shutter and by developing specific image calibration algorithms. Finally, we summarize the site testing and science results obtained with ASTEP. Overall, the ASTEP experiment will serve as a basis to design and operate future optical and near-infrared telescopes in Antarctica.
Aqueye+ is a new ultrafast optical single photon counter, based on single photon avalanche photodiodes (SPAD) and a 4- fold split-pupil concept. It is a completely revisited version of its predecessor, Aqueye, successfully mounted at the 182 cm Copernicus telescope in Asiago. Here we will present the new technological features implemented on Aqueye+, namely a state of the art timing system, a dedicated and optimized optical train, a high sensitivity and high frame rate field camera and remote control, which will give Aqueye plus much superior performances with respect to its predecessor, unparalleled by any other existing fast photometer. The instrument will host also an optical vorticity module to achieve high performance astronomical coronography and a real time acquisition of atmospheric seeing unit. The present paper describes the instrument and its first performances.