1-800-759-8811

Direct Detection of Extra-solar Planets with the WFIRST Coronagraph

Direct Detection of Extra-solar Planets with the WFIRST Coronagraph

Since the first discovery of an  planet around 51 Pegasi in 1995, a golden age of exoplanet discoveries had dawned for astronomers in our time. Extra-solar planets (or "exoplanets") have been detected by the thousands through a variety of techniques, most of which are indirect: the planet affects the much more visible star, and precise observations of the star light allows us to infer the existence of the planet. Since the light from the star is billions of times more bright than the planet, and usually overlaps the image of the planet because of the spreading of the image at the telescope, direct detection of the planet itself is extremely challenging. Recently, however, direct detection of planets have become possible using a highly precise optical instrument called a coronagraph, and now a 2.4 meter space telescope called WFIRST is being equipped with the most powerful coronagraph ever built. Sensitive to Jupiters and perhaps Neptunes, WFIRST will break new ground in this exciting area of exoplanet direct imaging and atmospheric characterization. Modeling shows the telescope and instrument design to be sufficiently robust as to allow 1e-10 contrast with relatively straightforward applications of reference differential imaging, and more sophisticated techniques are being explored which promise further improvements. In this presentation we describe the coronagraph and its expected performance in detection and characterization of exoplanetary systems.

Share