AAS 198th Meeting, June 2001
Session 83. The Promise and Pitfalls of High Contrast Imaging
Special Session Oral, Thursday, June 7, 2001, 10:00-11:30am, C212-214

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[83.04] Extreme AO: The future of high-contrast imaging with adaptive optics

B. Macintosh (LLNL)

Title: Extreme AO: The future of high-contrast-imaging with adaptive optics.

Adaptive optics (AO) partially cancels wavefront aberrations caused by atmospheric turbulence and can allow ground-basd telescope to reach their full diffraction-limited resolution. A fundamental limitation of all AO systems is that they have little effect on the atmospheric scattered light halo beyond a control radius roughly given by the wavelength of interest divided by the effective actuator spaceing d; for typical modern AO systems, d=60 cm and the control radius is about 0.6 arcseconds at H band. AO can still enhance contrast even beyond this radius, especially for point-source companions, by concentrating the light from the companion into a diffraction-limited spike, but the residual light remains a limitation on our ability to carry out high-contrast imaging from the ground.

We will discuss potential improvements to AO over the next decade and the science they will enable. First, in the near term, high-order AO systems will soon be operational on most 8-10 m telescopes; such systems are theoretically capable of directly detecting extrasolar planets in wide (20-150 AU) orbits, and the capabilities and limitations of these systems will be discussed. Second, in the moderate term, new instrument technologies could substantially increase the performance of these systems, including exotic phase-based coronagraphs or "dark speckle" techniques. Third, it will soon be possible to construct "extreme" adaptive optics (EAO) systems, with many thousand actuators and d=5-20cm, capable of more deeply surpressing the atmospheric halo out to a much larger radius than current systems. Coronagraphs and EAO will substantially increase our sensitivity to diffuse circumstellar dust and could conceivably reach the contrast levels necessary to see giant plants around a handful of nearby stars. Finally, within a decade construction should be underway on next-generation extremely large (25-100 m) telescopes, which will truly open up the possibility of directly detecting giant planets in many extrasolar systems resembling our own.

This research was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract W-7405-ENG-48, and also supported in part by the Center for Adaptive Optics under the STC Program of the National Science Foundation, Agreement No. AST-9876783

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: bmac@igpp.ucllnl.org

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