WIRC+Pol is a J and H-band spectropolarimetric mode for the prime-focus WIRC camera at the Palomar 200-inch Hale telescope. The mode has been enabled with the installation of a split-pupil polarization grating in Feburary 2017. The polarization grating was designed for the simultaneous measurement of Stokes Q and U without the use of a modulator at a seeing-limited spectral resolving power of 100. WIRC+Pol can operate in both a slitless mode and with a 3” slit. To overcome time-dependent instrumental polarization effects that limited the calibration of instrumental polarization to a 1% level, in February 2019 we installed a linear polarizer and half-wave plate modulator in front of the instrument, both of which are rotatable. With this design the primary mirror is the only optic in front of the modulator. The new upgrade has allowed us to calibrate the instrumental polarization to less than 0.1%. Here we present a detailed description of the upgrade and report on WIRC+Pol’s post-upgrade on-sky performance based on observations of unpolarized and polarized standard stars. We have used the observations of polarized standard stars to develop a wavelength-dependent polarimetric instrument model that we characterize as a function of time and focal-plane location.
WIRC+Pol is a near-infrared low-resolution spectropolarimeter on the 200-inch Telescope at Palomar Observatory. The instrument utilizes a polarization grating to perform polarimetric beam splitting and spectral dispersion simultaneously. It can operate either with a focal plane slit to reduce sky background or in a slitless mode. Four different spectra sampling four linear polarization angles are recorded in the focal plane, allowing the instrument to measure all linear polarization states in one exposure. The instrument has been on-sky since February 2017 and we found that the systematic errors, likely arising from flat fielding and gravity effects on the instrument, limit our accuracy to ~1%. These systematic effects were slowly varying, and hence could be removed with a polarimetric modulator. A half-wave plate modulator and a linear polarizer were installed in front of WIRC+Pol in March 2019. The modulator worked as expected, allowing us to measure and remove all instrumental polarization we previously observed. The deepest integration on a bright point source (J = 7.689, unpolarized star HD65970) demonstrated uncertainties in q and u of 0.03% per spectral channel, consistent with the photon noise limit. Observations of fainter sources showed that the instrument could reach the photon noise limit for observations in the slitless mode. For observations in slit, the uncertainties were still a factor of few above the photon noise limit, likely due to slit loss.
More than half of the stars in the solar neighborhood reside in binary/multiple stellar systems, and recent studies suggest that gas giant planets may be more abundant around binaries than single stars. Yet, these multiple systems are usually overlooked or discarded in most direct imaging surveys, as they prove difficult to image at high-contrast using coronographs. This is particularly the case for compact binaries (less than 1’’ angular separation) with similar stellar magnitudes, where no existing coronagraph can provide high-contrast regime. Here we present preliminary results of an on-going Palomar pilot survey searching for low-mass companions around ~15 young “challenging” binary systems, with angular separation as close as 0’’3 and near-equal K-band magnitudes. We use the Stellar Double Coronagraph (SDC) instrument on the 200-inch Telescope in a modified optical configuration, making it possible to align any targeted binary system behind two vector vortex coronagraphs in cascade. This approach is uniquely possible at Palomar, thanks to the absence of sky rotation combined with the availability of an extreme AO system, and the number of intermediate focalplanes provided by the SDC instrument. Finally, we expose our current data reduction strategy, and we attempt to quantify the exact contrast gain parameter space of our approach, based on our latest observing runs.
WIRC+Pol is a newly commissioned low-resolution (R 100), near-infrared (J and H bands) spectropolarimetry mode of the Wide-field InfraRed Camera (WIRC) on the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory. The instrument utilizes a novel polarimeter design based on a quarter-wave plate and a polarization grating (PG), which provides full linear polarization measurements (Stokes I, Q, and U ) in one exposure with no need for a polarimetric modulator. The PG also has high transmission across the J and H bands. The instrument is situated at the prime focus of an equatorially mounted telescope. As a result, the system only has one reflection in the light path and the instrument does not rotate with respect to the sky, which provides minimal and stable telescope induced polarization. A data reduction pipeline has been developed for WIRC+Pol to produce linear polarization measurements from observations, allowing, e.g., real-time monitoring of the signal-to-noise ratio of ongoing observations. WIRC+Pol has been on-sky since February 2017. Results from the first year commissioning data show that the instrument has a high dispersion efficiency as expected from the polarization grating. We discuss instrumental systematics we have uncovered in the data, their potential causes, along with calibrations that are necessary to eliminate them. We demonstrate the polarimetric stability of the instrument with RMS variation at 0.2% level over 30 minutes for a bright standard star (J = 8.7). While the spectral extraction is photon noise limited, polarization calibration between sources remain limited by systematics.