A near infrared laser frequency comb for high precision Doppler planet surveys
1 Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
2 Time and Frequency Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, CO 80305, USA
3 Bryant Space Science Center, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
4 Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
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Perhaps the most exciting area of astronomical research today is the study of exoplanets and exoplanetary systems, engaging the imagination not just of the astronomical community, but of the general population. Astronomical instrumentation has matured to the level where it is possible to detect terrestrial planets orbiting distant stars via radial velocity (RV) measurements, with the most stable visible light spectrographs reporting RV results the order of 1 m/s. This, however, is an order of magnitude away from the precision needed to detect an Earth analog orbiting a star such as our sun, the Holy Grail of these efforts. By performing these observations in near infrared (NIR) there is the potential to simplify the search for distant terrestrial planets by studying cooler, less massive, much more numerous class M stars, with a tighter habitable zone and correspondingly larger RV signal. This NIR advantage is undone by the lack of a suitable high precision, high stability wavelength standard, limiting NIR RV measurements to tens or hundreds of m/s [1, 2].
With the improved spectroscopic precision provided by a laser frequency comb based wavelength reference producing a set of bright, densely and uniformly spaced lines, it will be possible to achieve up to two orders of magnitude improvement in RV precision, limited only by the precision and sensitivity of existing spectrographs, enabling the observation of Earth analogs through RV measurements. We discuss the laser frequency comb as an astronomical wavelength reference, and describe progress towards a near infrared laser frequency comb at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and at the University of Colorado where we are operating a laser frequency comb suitable for use with a high resolution H band astronomical spectrograph.
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2011