EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 489, Number 3, October III 2008
Page(s) 1389 - 1398
Section Astronomical instrumentation
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20065648
Published online 25 August 2008

A&A 489, 1389-1398 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20065648

Precise wavefront correction with an unbalanced nulling interferometer for exo-planet imaging coronagraphs

J. Nishikawa1, 2, L. Abe3, 2, N. Murakami1, and T. Kotani4

1  MIRA project, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan
    e-mail: [jun.nishikawa;naoshi.murakami]@nao.ac.jp
2  Extrasolar Planet Project Office, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan
3  Division of Optical and Infrared Astronomy, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan
4  Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany

Received 22 May 2006 / Accepted 3 June 2008

Context. Coronagraphs of high dynamical range used for direct exo-planet detection (109–1010 contrast) on small angular separation (few $\lambda/D$ units) usually require an input wavefront quality of approximately ten thousandths of a wavelength rms.
Aims. We propose a novel method based on a pre-optics setup that behaves partly as a low-efficiency coronagraph, and partly as a high-sensitivity wavefront aberration compensator (phase and amplitude). The combination of the two effects results in a highly accurate corrected wavefront.
Methods. First, an (intensity-) unbalanced nulling interferometer (UNI) performs a rejection of part of the wavefront electric field. Then, the input aberrations of the recombined output wavefront are magnified. Because of the unbalanced recombination scheme, aberrations can be free of phase singular points (zeros) and can therefore be compensated by a downstream phase and amplitude correction (PAC) adaptive optics system, using two deformable mirrors.
Results. In the image plane, the central star's peak intensity and the noise level of its speckled halo are reduced by the UNI-PAC combination: the output-corrected wavefront aberrations can be interpreted as an improved compensation of the initial (eventually already corrected) incident wavefront aberrations.
Conclusions. The important conclusion is that not all of the elements in the optical setup using UNI-PAC need to reach the $\lambda$/10 000 rms surface error quality.

Key words: instrumentation: interferometers -- instrumentation: adaptive optics -- techniques: interferometric -- planetary systems

© ESO 2008