Universiteit Leiden

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Suppressing a Sea of Starlight: Enabling technology for the direct imaging of exoplanets

Promotor: Christoph U. Keller, Co-promotores: Matthew A. Kenworthy, Frans Snik

G.P.P.L. Otten
29 November 2016
Thesis in Leiden Repository

In this thesis we present multiple techniques to suppress starlight in order to better directly image planets around other stars. We propose a laboratory setup to test a new focal-plane wavefront sensing technique. We also show an optical device that suppresses starlight using liquid crystals (the vector Apodizing Phase Plate or vAPP). A broadband prototype (500-900 nm) is tested in the optical lab and its properties are determined. We suggest an simple but effective adaptation called the grating-vAPP which is insensitive to one of the common manufacturing errors (retardance offset). Two versions are tested on-sky. One narrow-band prototype at the Large Binocular Telescope that shows that the concept of the grating vAPP works. A second at Magellan/Clay that shows that we can produce a single optic with a broadband behaviour from 2 to 5 microns bandwidth that suppresses both sides of the star simultaneously. The on-sky 5 sigma contrast is 8.3 magnitudes at 2 lambda/D and 12.2 magnitudes at 3.5 lambda/D which makes this coronagraph extremely suited for imaging and characterizing planets close to nearby bright stars.