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Two Roads to Planet Detection


Bottom, Michael (2016) Two Roads to Planet Detection. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z97P8WC0.


One of the most exciting discoveries in astrophysics of the last last decade is of the sheer diversity of planetary systems. These include "hot Jupiters", giant planets so close to their host stars that they orbit once every few days; "Super-Earths", planets with sizes intermediate to those of Earth and Neptune, of which no analogs exist in our own solar system; multi-planet systems with planets smaller than Mars to larger than Jupiter; planets orbiting binary stars; free-floating planets flying through the emptiness of space without any star; even planets orbiting pulsars. Despite these remarkable discoveries, the field is still young, and there are many areas about which precious little is known. In particular, we don't know the planets orbiting Sun-like stars nearest to our own solar system, and we know very little about the compositions of extrasolar planets. This thesis provides developments in those directions, through two instrumentation projects.

The first chapter of this thesis concerns detecting planets in the Solar neighborhood using precision stellar radial velocities, also known as the Doppler technique. We present an analysis determining the most efficient way to detect planets considering factors such as spectral type, wavelengths of observation, spectrograph resolution, observing time, and instrumental sensitivity. We show that G and K dwarfs observed at 400-600 nm are the best targets for surveys complete down to a given planet mass and out to a specified orbital period. Overall we find that M dwarfs observed at 700-800 nm are the best targets for habitable-zone planets, particularly when including the effects of systematic noise floors caused by instrumental imperfections. Somewhat surprisingly, we demonstrate that a modestly sized observatory, with a dedicated observing program, is up to the task of discovering such planets.

We present just such an observatory in the second chapter, called the "MINiature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array," or MINERVA. We describe the design, which uses a novel multi-aperture approach to increase stability and performance through lower system etendue, as well as keeping costs and time to deployment down. We present calculations of the expected planet yield, and data showing the system performance from our testing and development of the system at Caltech's campus. We also present the motivation, design, and performance of a fiber coupling system for the array, critical for efficiently and reliably bringing light from the telescopes to the spectrograph. We finish by presenting the current status of MINERVA, operational at Mt. Hopkins observatory in Arizona.

The second part of this thesis concerns a very different method of planet detection, direct imaging, which involves discovery and characterization of planets by collecting and analyzing their light. Directly analyzing planetary light is the most promising way to study their atmospheres, formation histories, and compositions. Direct imaging is extremely challenging, as it requires a high performance adaptive optics system to unblur the point-spread function of the parent star through the atmosphere, a coronagraph to suppress stellar diffraction, and image post-processing to remove non-common path "speckle" aberrations that can overwhelm any planetary companions.

To this end, we present the "Stellar Double Coronagraph," or SDC, a flexible coronagraphic platform for use with the 200" Hale telescope. It has two focal and pupil planes, allowing for a number of different observing modes, including multiple vortex phase masks in series for improved contrast and inner working angle behind the obscured aperture of the telescope. We present the motivation, design, performance, and data reduction pipeline of the instrument. In the following chapter, we present some early science results, including the first image of a companion to the star delta Andromeda, which had been previously hypothesized but never seen.

A further chapter presents a wavefront control code developed for the instrument, using the technique of "speckle nulling," which can remove optical aberrations from the system using the deformable mirror of the adaptive optics system. This code allows for improved contrast and inner working angles, and was written in a modular style so as to be portable to other high contrast imaging platforms. We present its performance on optical, near-infrared, and thermal infrared instruments on the Palomar and Keck telescopes, showing how it can improve contrasts by a factor of a few in less than ten iterations.

One of the large challenges in direct imaging is sensing and correcting the electric field in the focal plane to remove scattered light that can be much brighter than any planets. In the last chapter, we present a new method of focal-plane wavefront sensing, combining a coronagraph with a simple phase-shifting interferometer. We present its design and implementation on the Stellar Double Coronagraph, demonstrating its ability to create regions of high contrast by measuring and correcting for optical aberrations in the focal plane. Finally, we derive how it is possible to use the same hardware to distinguish companions from speckle errors using the principles of optical coherence. We present results observing the brown dwarf HD 49197b, demonstrating the ability to detect it despite it being buried in the speckle noise floor. We believe this is the first detection of a substellar companion using the coherence properties of light.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Astronomical instrumentation, extrasolar planets, high contrast imaging, high resolution spectroscopy
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kulkarni, Shrinivas R. (advisor)
  • Johnson, John A. (co-advisor)
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Hallinan, Gregg W. (chair)
  • Kulkarni, Shrinivas R.
  • Johnson, John A.
  • Serabyn, Eugene
  • Hirata, Christopher M.
  • Steidel, Charles C.
Defense Date:10 May 2016
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NASA Space Technology Research FellowshipNNX13AN42H
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05242016-123425364
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription published material in chapter 2 and 3 published materials in chapter 3 published materials in chapter 5
Bottom, Michael0000-0003-1341-5531
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9741
Deposited By: Michael Bottom
Deposited On:25 May 2016 23:31
Last Modified:26 Oct 2021 17:25

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