Mazin Lab at UCSB is developing MKID instrument for astronomy at near infrared, optical and ultraviolet wavelength. We use MIKDs as single photon detectors by measuring the arrival time of incoming photons with an accuracy of a few microseconds and with a relatively high energy resolution (R~10 at 1um). We fabricate kilopixels array of MKIDs and we incorporate them in our own instruments for UVOIR astronomy with the main application being exoplanets direct imaging.
We present the work being made in our lab in the development and fabrication of 10 to 20k pixels arrays for the DARKNESS (Dark-speckle Near-IR Energy-resolved Superconducting Spectrophotometer) and MEC (MKID Exoplanet Camera) instruments, respectively. The 6-step fabrication process has been upgraded over the last months in order to improve the sensitivity of the arrays. The detectors are made of platinum silicide (PtSi) since MKIDs with very high internal quality factor have been successfully fabricated from this material. Furthermore, PtSi with very uniform superconducting properties over 4inch substrate are much more easier to deposit than the regular TiN used in most existing MKIDs technology. Among various upgrades, we coated the PtSi sensitive area with a SiO2/Ta2O5 bi-layer in order to reduce the reflection of optical photons hitting the detectors. The light absorption is increased by a factor of 2 in the instruments bandwidth. The DARKNESS instrument has been successfully commissioned last summer and MEC, the world largest superconducting camera, is installed at the Subaru telescope since the beginning of the year. Our effort leads to the fabrication of arrays of detectors with a median internal quality factor of 100 000 with an energy resolution of 10 at 1um and a pixel yield approaching 95%.
In addition, we will present new MKID design in which the conventional meander inductor and interdigitated capacitor are replaced by a square inductor and a large parallel plate capacitor made of two metal plates separated by a ~10-nm thick dielectric layer. This parallel plate design allows us to drive the MKIDs at a higher power, which in turns should increase the sensitivity of the detectors. Following promising results from our first design, second generation of parallel plate MKID devices have been made from Hf/HfO2/Nb tri-layers deposited in-sit. We obtained high quality factor from the parallel plate MKIDs and we were able to detect photons with this new MKIDs design. Another way to improve the sensitivity of MKIDs is to use a low Tc material, compared to Tc ~ 1K usually used. We fabricated MKIDs arrays with superconducting Hafnium, Tc = 450mK, and we demonstrated that resonators with very high internal quality factors Qi~300 000 and an energy resolution of 9 at 808nm can be achieved.
Direct Imaging of exoplanets is one of the most technically difficult techniques used to study exoplanets, but holds immense promise for not just detecting but characterizing planets around the nearest stars. Ambitious instruments at the world’s largest telescopes have been built to carry out this science: the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), SPHERE at VLT, SCExAO at Subaru, and the P1640 and Stellar Double Coronagraph (SDC) at Palomar. These instruments share a common archetype consisting of an extreme AO system feeding a coronagraph for on-axis stellar light rejection followed by a focal plane Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS). They are currently limited by uncontrolled scattered and diffracted light which produces a coherent speckle halo in the image plane. A number of differential imaging schemes exist to mitigate these issues resulting in star-planet contrast ratios as deep as ~10^-6 at low angular separations. Surpassing this contrast limit requires high speed active speckle nullification from a focal plane wavefront sensor (FPWS) and new processing techniques.
MEC, the Microwave Kinetic Inductance Detector (MKID) Exoplanet Camera, is a J-band IFS module behind Subaru Telescope’s SCExAO system. MEC is capable of producing an image cube several thousand times a second without the read noise that dominates conventional high speed IFUs. This enables it to integrate with SCExAO as an extremely fast FPWS while eliminating non-common path aberrations by doubling as a science camera. Key science objectives can be further explored if longer wavelengths (H and K band) are simultaneously sent to CHARIS for high resolution spectroscopy. MEC, to be commissioned at Subaru in early 2018, is the second MKID IFS for high contrast imaging following DARKNESS’ debut at Palomar in July 2016.
MEC will follow up on young planets and debris disks discovered in the SEEDS survey or by Project 1640 as well as discover self-luminous massive planets. The increased sensitivity, combined with the advanced coronagraphs in SCExAO which have inner working angles (IWAs) as small as 0.03” at 1.2 μm, allows young Jupiter-sized objects to be imaged as close as 4 AU from their host star. If the wavefront control enabled by MEC is fully realized, it may begin to probe the reflected light of giant planets around some nearby stars, opening a new parameter space for direct imaging targeting older stars. While direct imaging of reflected light exoplanets is the most challenging of the scientific goals, it is a promising long-term path towards characterization of habitable planets around nearby stars using Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs). With diameters of about 30-m, an ELT can resolve the habitable zones of nearby M-type stars, for which an Earth-sized planet would be at ~10^-7 contrast at 1 μm. This will complement future space-based high contrast optical imaging targeting the wider habitable zones of sun-like stars for ~10^-10 contrast earth analogs.
We will present lessons learned from the first few months of MEC’s operation including initial lab and on-sky (weather permitting) results. We already have preliminary data from Palomar testing a new statistical speckle discrimination post-processing technique using the photon arrival time measured with MKIDs. Residual stellar light in the form of a speckle masquerading as a planetary companion is pulled from a modified Rician distribution and can be statistically discerned from a true off-axis Poisson point source. Additionally, the progress of active focal plane wavefront control will be briefly discussed.