Context. Polarimetric images of circumstellar environments, even when corrected with adaptive optics, have a limited angular resolution. Finite resolution greatly affects polarimetric images because of the canceling of adjacent polarization signals with opposite signs. In radio astronomy this effect is called beam depolarization and is well known. However, radio techniques to mitigate beam depolarization are not directly applicable to optical images as a consequence of the inherent lack of phase information at optical wavelengths.
Aims: We explore the effects of a finite point-spread function (PSF) on polarimetric images and the application of Richardson-Lucy deconvolution to polarimetric images.
Methods: We simulated polarimetric images of highly simplified, circumstellar disk models and convolved these with simulated and actual SPHERE/ZIMPOL PSFs. We attempted to deconvolve simulated images in orthogonal linear polarizations and polarized intensity images.
Results: The most significant effect of finite angular resolution is the loss of polarimetric signal close to the central star where large polarization signals of opposite signs average out. The finite angular resolution can also introduce polarized light in areas beyond the original, polarized signal such as outside of disks. These effects are particularly severe for disks that are not rotationally symmetric. The deconvolution of polarimetric images is far from trivial. Richardson-Lucy deconvolution applied to images in opposite linear polarization states, which are subsequently subtracted from each other, cannot recover the signal close to the star. Sources that lack rotational symmetry cannot be recovered with this deconvolution approach.