The ZIMPOL high-contrast imaging polarimeter for SPHERE: design, manufacturing, and testing


ZIMPOL is the high contrast imaging polarimeter subsystem of the ESO SPHERE instrument. ZIMPOL is dedicated to detect the very faint reflected and hence polarized visible light from extrasolar planets. ZIMPOL is located behind an extreme AO system (SAXO) and a stellar coronagraph. SPHERE is foreseen to have first light at the VLT at the end of 2011. ZIMPOL is currently in the manufacturing, integration and testing phase. We describe the optical, polarimetric, mechanical, thermal and electronic design as well as the design trade offs. Specifically emphasized is the optical quality of the key performance component: the Ferro- electric Liquid Crystal polarization modulator (FLC). Furthermore, we describe the ZIMPOL test setup and the first test results on the achieved polarimetric sensitivity and accuracy. These results will give first indications for the expected overall high contrast system performance. SPHERE is an instrument designed and built by a consortium consisting of LAOG, MPIA, LAM, LESIA, Fizeau, INAF, Observatoire de Genève, ETH, NOVA, ONERA and ASTRON in collaboration with ESO.