The coronagraphic Modal Wavefront Sensor: a hybrid focal-plane sensor for the high-contrast imaging of circumstellar environments


The raw coronagraphic performance of current high-contrast imaging instruments is limited by the presence of a quasi-static speckle (QSS) background, resulting from instrumental Non-Common Path Errors (NCPEs). Rapid development of efficient speckle subtraction techniques in data reduction has enabled final contrasts of up to 10$^-6$ to be obtained, however it remains preferable to eliminate the underlying NCPEs at the source. In this work we introduce the coronagraphic Modal Wavefront Sensor (cMWS), a new wavefront sensor suitable for real-time NCPE correction. This combines the Apodizing Phase Plate (APP) coronagraph with a holographic modal wavefront sensor to provide simultaneous coronagraphic imaging and focal-plane wavefront sensing with the science point-spread function. We first characterise the baseline performance of the cMWS via idealised closed-loop simulations, showing that the sensor is able to successfully recover diffraction-limited coronagraph performance over an effective dynamic range of ensuremath±2.5 radians root-mean-square (rms) wavefront error within 2-10 iterations, with performance independent of the specific choice of mode basis. We then present the results of initial on-sky testing at the William Herschel Telescope, which demonstrate that the sensor is capable of NCPE sensing under realistic seeing conditions via the recovery of known static aberrations to an accuracy of 10 nm (0.1 radians) rms error in the presence of a dominant atmospheric speckle foreground. We also find that the sensor is capable of real-time measurement of broadband atmospheric wavefront variance (50% bandwidth, 158 nm rms wavefront error) at a cadence of 50 Hz over an uncorrected telescope sub-aperture. When combined with a suitable closed- loop adaptive optics system, the cMWS holds the potential to deliver an improvement of up to two orders of magnitude over the uncorrected QSS floor. Such a sensor would be eminently suitable for the direct imaging and spectroscopy of exoplanets with both existing and future instruments, including EPICS and METIS for the E-ELT.

Astronomy & Astrophysics