Sunday, December 13, 2015

K-Stacker: a new Technique for Detecting and Characterizing Exoplanets With High Contrast Imaging Instruments

K-Stacker, a new way of detecting and characterizing exoplanets with high contrast imaging instruments


Le Coroller et al


This year, a second generation of coronagraphs dedicated to high-contrast direct imaging of exoplanets is starting operations. Among them, SPHERE, installed at the focus of the UT3 Very Large Telescope, reaches unprecedented contrast ratios up to 10−6 -10−7, using eXtreme Adaptive Optics and the Angular Differential Imaging (ADI) techniques.

In this paper, we present a new method called Keplerian-Stacker that improves the detection limit of high contrast instruments like SPHERE, by up to a factor of 10. It consists of observing a star on a long enough period to let a hypothetical planet around that star move along its orbit. Even if in each individual observation taken during one night, we do not detect anything, we show that it is possible, using an optimization algorithm, to re-center the images according to keplerian motions (ex: 10-100 images taken over a long period of typically 1-10 years) and detect planets otherwise unreachable. This method can be used in combination with the ADI technics (or possibly any other high contrast data reduction method) to improve the Signal to Noise Ratio in each individual image, and to further improve the global detection limit. It also directly provides orbital parameters of the detected planets, as a by-product of the optimization algorithm.

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