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Absil Olivier, Coudé du Foresto Vincent, Barillot Marc, Swain Mark R.

Nulling interferometry: performance comparison between Antarctica and other ground-based sites

Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2007, vol. 475, pp. 1185-1194

Référence DOI : 10.1051/0004-6361:20077582
Référence ADS : 2007A&A...475.1185A

Résumé :

Context: Detecting the presence of circumstellar dust around nearby solar-type main sequence stars is an important pre-requisite for the design of future life-finding space missions such as ESA's Darwin or NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF). The high Antarctic plateau may provide appropriate conditions to perform such a survey from the ground. <BR />Aims: We investigate the performance of a nulling interferometer optimised for the detection of exozodiacal discs at Dome C, on the high Antarctic plateau, and compare it to the expected performance of similar instruments at temperate sites. <BR />Methods: Based on the currently available measurements of the atmospheric turbulence characteristics at Dome C, we adapt the GENIEsim software (Absil et al. 2006, A&A, 448, 787) to simulate the performance of a nulling interferometer on the high Antarctic plateau. To feed a realistic instrumental configuration into the simulator, we propose a conceptual design for ALADDIN, the Antarctic L-band Astrophysics Discovery Demonstrator for Interferometric Nulling. We assume that this instrument can be placed above the 30-m thick boundary layer, where most of the atmospheric turbulence originates. <BR />Results: We show that an optimised nulling interferometer operating on a pair of 1-m class telescopes located 30 m above the ground could achieve a better sensitivity than a similar instrument working with two 8-m class telescopes at a temperate site such as Cerro Paranal. The detection of circumstellar discs about 20 times as dense as our local zodiacal cloud seems within reach for typical Darwin/TPF targets in an integration time of a few hours. Moreover, the exceptional turbulence conditions significantly relax the requirements on real-time control loops, which has favourable consequences on the feasibility of the nulling instrument. <BR />Conclusions: The perspectives for high dynamic range, high angular resolution infrared astronomy on the high Antarctic plateau look very promising.

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