The Planet Formation Imager (PFI) is a near- and mid-infrared interferometer project with the driving science goal of imaging directly the key stages of planet formation, including the young proto-planets themselves. Here, we will present an update on the work of the Science Working Group (SWG), including new simulations of dust structures during the assembly phase of planet formation and quantitative detection efficiencies for accreting and non-accreting young exoplanets as a function of mass and age. We use these results to motivate two reference PFI designs consisting of a) twelve 3m telescopes with a maximum baseline of 1.2km focused on young exoplanet imaging and b) twelve 8m telescopes optimized for a wider range of young exoplanets and protoplanetary disk imaging out to the 150K H2O ice line. Armed with 4 x 8m telescopes, the ESO/VLTI can already detect young exoplanets in principle and projects such as MATISSE, Hi-5 and Heimdallr are important PFI pathfinders to make this possible. We also discuss the state of technology development needed to make PFI more affordable, including progress towards new designs for inexpensive, small field-of-view, large aperture telescopes and prospects for Cubesat-based space interferometry.
MATISSE is the 2nd generation mid-infrared instrument designed to combine four VLTI telescopes in the L, M and N spectral bands. It’s commissioning in Paranal is in progress since March 2018 and should continue until the middle of 2019. Here we report, in June 2018, the commissioning plan, tools and the preliminary results of the first two commissioning runs in MATISSE that show that the instrument is already fully operational with a sensitivity well beyond its specification. The quality of the measurements, as they obtained by the current observing procedures and delivered by the current pipeline are already good enough for a broad range of science observations. However, our results remain quite preliminary and they will be quite substantially improved by the work in progress in instrument calibration, observing procedures optimization and data processing updates.
MATISSE represents a great opportunity to image the environment around massive and evolved stars. This will allow one to put constraints on the circumstellar structure, on the mass ejection of dust and its reorganization, and on the dust-nature and formation processes. MATISSE measurements will often be pivotal for the understanding of large multiwavelength datasets on the same targets collected through many high-angular resolution facilities at ESO like sub-millimeter interferometry (ALMA), near-infrared adaptive optics (NACO, SPHERE), interferometry (PIONIER, GRAVITY), spectroscopy (CRIRES), and mid-infrared imaging (VISIR). Among main sequence and evolved stars, several cases of interest have been identified that we describe in this paper.
The Planet Formation Imager (PFI) project aims to provide a strong scientific vision for ground-based optical astronomy beyond the upcoming generation of Extremely Large Telescopes. We make the case that a breakthrough in angular resolution imaging capabilities is required in order to unravel the processes involved in planet formation. PFI will be optimised to provide a complete census of the protoplanet population at all stellocentric radii and over the age range from 0.1 to ~100 Myr. Within this age period, planetary systems undergo dramatic changes and the final architecture of planetary systems is determined. Our goal is to study the planetary birth on the natural spatial scale where the material is assembled, which is the "Hill Sphere" of the forming planet, and to characterise the protoplanetary cores by measuring their masses and physical properties. Our science working group has investigated the observational characteristics of these young protoplanets as well as the migration mechanisms that might alter the system architecture. We simulated the imprints that the planets leave in the disk and study how PFI could revolutionise areas ranging from exoplanet to extragalactic science. In this contribution we outline the key science drivers of PFI and discuss the requirements that will guide the technology choices, the site selection, and potential science/technology tradeoffs.
The late evolutionary stages of stellar evolution are a key ingredient for our understanding in many fields of astrophysics, including stellar evolution and the enrichment of the interstellar medium (ISM) via stellar yields. Already the first interferometric campaigns identified evolved stars as the primary targets because of their extended and partially optically thin atmospheres, and the brightness in the infrared. Interferometric studies spanning different wavelength ranges, from visual to mid-infrared, have greatly increased our knowledge of the complex atmospheres of these objects where different dynamic processes are at play. In less than two decades this technique went from measuring simple diameters to produce the first images of stellar surfaces. By scanning the extended atmospheres we constrained theoretical models, learnt about molecular stratification, dust formation, and stellar winds, and there is still a lot to be done. In this contribution I will review the recent results that optical/infrared interferometry has made on our current understanding of cool evolved stars. The presentation will focus on asymptotic giant branch stars, and red supergiants. I will discuss the challenges of image reconstruction, and highlight how this field of research will benefit from the synergy of the current interferometric instrument(s) with the second generation VLTI facilities GRAVITY and MATISSE. Finally I will conclude with a short introspection on applications of a visible interferometer and of the the Planet Formation Imager (PFI) to the field of evolved stars.
We present an overview of the scientific potential of MATISSE, the Multi Aperture mid-Infrared SpectroScopic Experiment for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. For this purpose we outline selected case studies from various areas, such as star and planet formation, active galactic nuclei, evolved stars, extrasolar planets, and solar system minor bodies and discuss strategies for the planning and analysis of future MATISSE observations. Moreover, the importance of MATISSE observations in the context of complementary high-angular resolution observations at near-infrared and submillimeter/millimeter wavelengths is highlighted.
Interferometry is a very powerful observational technique known in astronomy for many decades. Its application to main-sequence stars, however, is still limited to only brightest objects. In this work we aim to explore the application of interferometry to a special class of main-sequence stars known as chemically peculiar (CP) stars. These stars demonstrate surface chemical abundance inhomogeneities (spots) that usually cover a considerable part of the stellar surface and induce a pronounced spectral and photometric variability. Interferometry thus has a potential to naturally resolve such spots in single stars, providing unique complementary information about spots sizes and contrasts. By means of numerical experiments we derive the actual interferometric requirements essential for the CP stars research that can be addressed in future instrument development. The first comparison between theoretical predictions and already available observations will also be discussed.
Observing late type stars with an interferometer is rather easy" because of their brightness in the near-infrared and their extended atmosphere. On the other hand the interpretation of interferometric observations is very tricky, especially when it comes to asymmetric structures detected via phase measurements. Our team developed dedicated 2D Roche lobe models to interpret observations of binary candidates. The models are generated through a software that simulates binary systems in a realistic way, using a Roche representation of the stellar surfaces and the MARCS stellar atmosphere models. In this contribution we present the method and show examples of synthetic interferometric data.
We developed the tool GEM-FIND that allows to constrain the morphology and brightness distribution of ob-
jects. The software fits geometrical models to spectrally dispersed interferometric visibility measurements in the
N-band using the Levenberg-Marquardt minimization method. Each geometrical model describes the bright-
ness distribution of the object in the Fourier space using a set of wavelength-independent and/or wavelength-
dependent parameters. In this contribution we numerically analyze the stability of our nonlinear fitting approach
by applying it to sets of synthetic visibilities with statistically applied errors, answering the following questions:
How stable is the parameter determination with respect to (i) the number of uv-points, (ii) the distribution of
points in the uv-plane, (iii) the noise level of the observations?
The mass-loss process is a key ingredient for our understanding in many fields of astrophysics, including stellar evolution and the enrichment of the interstellar medium (ISM) via stellar yields. We combined the capability of the VLTI/MIDI and VLT/VISIR instruments with very recent Herschel/PACS observations to characterize the geometry of mass loss from evolved red giants on the Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) at various scales. This paper describes the sample of objects, the observing strategy, the tool for the interpretation, and preliminary MIDI results for two targets: U Ant and θ Aps.