It is my great pleasure to be able announce that the paper Mike Ireland (ANU) and I wrote, entitled “Kernel-nulling for a robust direct interferometric detection of extrasolar planets” has been accepted for publication by Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The paper introduces a baseline class of nulling-interferometers producing outputs that can be robustly calibrated. These new observable quantities exhibit properties that are similar to closure- and kernel-phase, while taking advantage of the use of a true nulling stage. The first version of our paper had been previously announced. The (updated) preprint of the paper is now available on arXiv.
It is fantastic to have this piece accepted: the quest for robust high-contrast solutions has been on my mind for a while… And now that we know that at least one solution exists, surely others must do too!
The KERNEL project, hosted by Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur (OCA) invites applications for a postdoctoral research position in the field of high-angular resolution astronomy starting no later than February 1, 2019. This position is funded by the European Research Council (ERC – CoG – grand agreement #683029) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
The KERNEL project
KERNEL aims at enabling every optical and infrared astronomical facility to reach its ultimate angular resolution potential, often pushing beyond the formal diffraction limit, while preserving the full sensitivity. By looking at astronomical data as the result of an interferometric process, the KERNEL framework brings much needed robustness to high-performance observing techniques, required for instance for the direct detection of extrasolar planets.
The KERNEL framework offers a wide range applications that go from the post-processing of available archival data to high-performance focal plane metrology, partly coupled with high-contrast imaging. In order to develop and prototype the next generation of high-performance instruments and metrology monitoring tools for ground based telescopes and interferometers, the completion of the KERNEL project includes the construction of a general purpose test-bench, with elements that have already been successfully deployed for on-sky applications. The postdoc responsibility will be to oversee the completion of this KERNEL test-bench.
The test-bench primarily relies on a high-order segmented deformable mirror used to modulate the phase across a diffractive aperture and a high-cadence low-readout near-infrared camera, simultaneously in up to four complementary spectral bandpasses.
The multi-band aspect of the bench expands on the capability already offered by the KERNEL framework:
it extends the range of tolerated input instrumental phase, with applications such fringe tracking for long baseline interferometry and adaptive optics for large telescopes.
it provides further calibration capability, allowing for the acquisition of spectral differential kernel-phases
In addition, with its simple but agile high-contrast mode, the bench will also make it possible to experimentally validate observing strategies devised in the context of the project that bring robustness to aberrations to high-contrast direct detection.
How to apply
A Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, or a closely related field is mandatory. We are interested in individuals with several years of post-PhD research experience in the development and the scientific exploitation of instrumentation in the field of high angular resolution astronomy that include active wavefront compensation either in the laboratory or at the telescope. The candidate should be willing to collaborate with and assist graduate students that will use the KERNEL bench for their research projects. The candidate will also be encouraged to take advantage of the experimental setup and the KERNEL project members expertise to pursue his/her own research interests.
The candidate must also possess a strong background in the modeling, reduction and interpretation of diffraction dominated data (interferograms and/or AO-corrected images). Experience with the Python and/or the C programming language is highly desirable.
The initial appointment will be for two years, with possible extensions up to four years. The successful candidate will be hosted by the Lagrange Laboratory, with a lab located on the campus of Valrose, downtown the beautiful city of Nice, France.
To apply, please send a copy of your curriculum vitae, and a summary of your research interests. Also arrange for three reference letters to be sent to Frantz Martinache (firstname.lastname@example.org). For full consideration, applications should be received before September 15, 2018, although applications will be reviewed up until the position is filled.
Dans le but de soutenir mon Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches (HDR), j’ai soumis à mes rapporteurs la première version de cette thèse, intitulée: “Repousser les limites de la diffraction pour l’astronomie à haute résolution angulaire”.
Deux versions de cette thèse sont téléchargeables ici au format PDF:
Although it took more work than anticipated, the camera was successfully integrated to the SCExAO instrument both optically and in software, now using a VisioLink F4 frame grabber sold by EDT. The optics inside SCExAO make it possible to send light in focus to this camera and the images produced by the camera are written to shared memory so as to be integrated with the rest of the real time SCExAO software environment.
In its default full frame mode, the C-RED-1 makes it possible to acquire frames at 3.5 kHz. In its smallest window mode, the camera can run a little over 71 kHz. The high sensitivity of the camera, coupled with the high frame rate, are real game changers in the realm of high-contrast imaging and really make it possible to envision driving a deformable mirror directly from the focal plane. At these speeds, speckles don’t stand a chance!
The camera was partly commissioned on-sky during unfortunately rather poor observing conditions… but engineering observations are planned for October 2018 so this camera will get its chance to shine!
The software running the “K-cam” camera is maintained on Frantz’s github page.
These are the slides of a presentation given on March 8, 2018 at IPAG, where I present research activities related to the KERNEL project, in particular the most recent development concerning the idea of kernel-nulling interferometry.
You can access the presentation file directly here.
Combining the resolving power of long-baseline interferometry with the high-dynamic range capability of nulling still remains the only technique that can directly sense the presence of structures in the innermost regions of extrasolar planetary systems. Ultimately, the performance of any nuller architecture is constrained by the partial resolution of the on-axis star whose light it attempts to cancel out, and the design of nullers focuses on increasing the order of the extinction to reduce the sensitivity to this effect. However from the ground, the effective performance of nulling is dominated by residual time-varying instrumental phase errors that keep the instrument off the null. This is similar to what happens with high-contrast imaging, and is what we aim to ameliorate. We introduce a modified nuller architecture that enables the extraction of information that is robust against piston excursions. Our method generalizes the concept of kernel, now applied to the outputs of the modified nuller so as to make them robust to second order pupil phase error. We present the general method to determine these kernel-outputs and highlight the benefits of this novel approach. We present the properties of VIKiNG: the VLTI Infrared Kernel NullinG, an instrument concept within the Hi-5 framework for the 4-UT VLTI infrastructure that takes advantage of the proposed architecture, to produce three self-calibrating nulled outputs. Stabilized by a fringe-tracker that would bring piston-excursions down to 50 nm, this instrument would be able to directly detect more than a dozen extrasolar planets so-far detected by radial velocity only, as well as many hot transiting planets and a significant number of very young exoplanets.
Because of the exquisite level of wavefront control they enable, extreme adaptive optics (XAO)-fed instruments like SPHERE at VLT or SCExAO at the Subaru Telescope, have led to discovering new subtle effects that were previously invisible, as images were still dominated by the lesser correction. One such recently discovered effect is the “low wind effect” (LWE), so called because its impact is particularly obvious when the low altitude wind speed decreases below a threshold speed: whereas such observing conditions should in theory be ideal for the instrument, the image quality decreases so much that the instrument cannot be used productively.
This effect seems to be due to subtle interactions of the airflow and the structure bearing the secondary mirror of the telescope: when the wind speed drops, temperature gradients occur over the surface of the primary, and result in strong aberrations and even discontinuities in the wavefront that are very difficult to diagnose by conventional wavefront sensors. Given that the signature of the effect is particularly strong on the image (the resulting PSF was even nicknamed “Mickey Mouse”, since it sometimes bears strong sidelobes reminiscent of the famous mouse’s ears), the image seems like the right place to diagnose this effect: an ideal job for the phase transfer model at the heart of the KERNEL project!
Given prior experience with focal plane based wavefront sensing (reported in a publication available here) with the SCExAO instrument, the KERNEL team is investigating the relevance of the asymmetric pupil Fourier wavefront sensing (APF-WFS) technique, and its ability to account for the peculiar aberrations introduced by this LWE. The video below features a proof of concept: it shows that, at least in the context of a simulation, the technique can indeed be used in a closed-loop system, to bring these aberrations down! This adaptation of the APF-WFS to deal with the low wind effect will be the object of experimental work at the Subaru Telescope, over the next couple of weeks.
One of the pillars on which the KERNEL project rests is a data processing pipeline that aims at being as versatile and portable as possible, for general astrophysics purposes as well as for metrology. The maintenance of this tool is one of the tasks listed among the work packages that make up the bulk of the KERNEL project. Since the idea is to make the pipeline available to the community at large, it was decided to host the source code on an open access repository on GitHub. The new package is called XARA, an acronym that stands for eXtreme Angular Resolution Astronomy, and can be downloaded right here. This package is an evolution of a previous incarnation called PYSCO (Python Self-Calibrating Observables), that was hosted on the now defunct Google Code platform. The most notable difference is that it is properly packaged and can be installed, so that its classes and functions can be called from anywhere in your python scripts.
It is accompanied by a convenient simulation package of eXtreme Adaptive Optics (XAO) astutely called XAOSIM and also made available on GitHub. Keep in mind that both are work in progress, that will be regularly updated over the course of the KERNEL project, as features are added and bugs are accounted for, so always check for the latest update of these tools before using them!
Every good project needs a good logo. KERNEL now therefore has one: it was realized by my brother, Wilfried Martinache, who’s training to become a professional graphic designer. Check out his website: thebigbluebear.net. I think the logo is pretty neat, as it suggests that the stuff that really matters, at the heart of things (ie. the kernel!), may be invisible although it influences everything around it!
Astronomy and Instrumentation by Frantz Martinache