Abstract

One of the top priorities in observational astronomy is the direct imaging and characterization of extrasolar planets (exoplanets) and planetary systems. Direct images of rocky exoplanets are of particular interest in the search for life beyond the Earth, but they tend to be rather challenging targets since they are orders-of-magnitude dimmer than their host stars and are separated by small angular distances that are comparable to the classical $\lambda /D$ diffraction limit, even for the coming generation of 30 m class telescopes. Current and planned efforts for ground-based direct imaging of exoplanets combine high-order adaptive optics (AO) with a stellar coronagraph observing at wavelengths ranging from the visible to the mid-IR. The primary barrier to achieving high contrast with current direct imaging methods is quasi-static speckles, caused largely by non-common path aberrations (NCPAs) in the coronagraph optical train. Recent work has demonstrated that millisecond imaging, which effectively “freezes” the atmosphere’s turbulent phase screens, should allow the wavefront sensor (WFS) telemetry to be used as a probe of the optical system to measure NCPAs. Starting with a realistic model of a telescope with an AO system and a stellar coronagraph, this paper provides simulations of several closely related regression models that take advantage of millisecond telemetry from the WFS and coronagraph’s science camera. The simplest regression model, called the naïve estimator, does not treat the noise and other sources of information loss in the WFS. Despite its flaws, in one of the simulations presented herein, the naïve estimator provides a useful estimate of an NCPA of ${\sim}0.5$ radian RMS ($\approx \lambda /13$), with an accuracy of ${\sim}0.06$ radian RMS in 1 min of simulated sky time on a magnitude 8 star. The bias-corrected estimator generalizes the regression model to account for the noise and information loss in the WFS. A simulation of the bias-corrected estimator with 4 min of sky time included an NCPA of ${\sim}0.05$ radian RMS ($\approx \lambda /130$) and an extended exoplanet scene. The joint regression of the bias-corrected estimator simultaneously achieved an NCPA estimate with an accuracy of ${\sim}5 \times {10^{- 3}}$ radian RMS and an estimate of the exoplanet scene that was free of the self-subtraction artifacts typically associated with differential imaging. The $5 \sigma$ contrast achieved by imaging of the exoplanet scene was ${\sim}1.7 \times {10^{- 4}}$ at a distance of $3\lambda /D$ from the star and ${\sim}2.1 \times {10^{- 5}}$ at $10 \lambda /D$. These contrast values are comparable to the very best on-sky results obtained from multi-wavelength observations that employ both angular differential imaging (ADI) and spectral differential imaging (SDI). This comparable performance is despite the fact that our simulations are quasi-monochromatic, which makes SDI impossible, nor do they have diurnal field rotation, which makes ADI impossible. The error covariance matrix of the joint regression shows substantial correlations in the exoplanet and NCPA estimation errors, indicating that exoplanet intensity and NCPA need to be estimated self-consistently to achieve high contrast.

© 2021 Optical Society of America

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Data underlying the results presented in this paper are not publicly available at this time but may be obtained from the authors upon reasonable request.

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