Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spitzer's Deep Observations of Vega, Fomalhaut, and epsilon Eridani

High-contrast Imaging with Spitzer: Deep Observations of Vega, Fomalhaut, and epsilon Eridani


Janson et al


Stars with debris disks are intriguing targets for direct imaging exoplanet searches, both due to previous detections of wide planets in debris disk systems, as well as commonly existing morphological features in the disks themselves that may be indicative of a planetary influence. Here we present observations of three of the most nearby young stars, that are also known to host massive debris disks: Vega, Fomalhaut, and eps Eri. The Spitzer Space Telescope is used at a range of orientation angles for each star, in order to supply a deep contrast through angular differential imaging combined with high-contrast algorithms. The observations provide the opportunity to probe substantially colder bound planets (120--330 K) than is possible with any other technique or instrument. For Vega, some apparently very red candidate point sources detected in the 4.5 micron image remain to be tested for common proper motion. The images are sensitive to ~2 Mjup companions at 150 AU in this system. The observations presented here represent the first search for planets around Vega using Spitzer. The upper 4.5 micron flux limit on Fomalhaut b could be further constrained relative to previous data. In the case of eps Eri, planets below both the effective temperature and the mass of Jupiter could be probed from 80 AU and outwards, although no such planets were found. The data sensitively probe the regions around the edges of the debris rings in the systems where planets can be expected to reside. These observations validate previous results showing that more than an order of magnitude improvement in performance in the contrast-limited regime can be acquired with respect to conventional methods by applying sophisticated high-contrast techniques to space-based telescopes, thanks to the high degree of PSF stability provided in this environment.

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