Zodiac: A Balloon Facility for Exoplanet Debris Disk Observations


Geoffrey Bryden, Stephen C. Unwin and Wesley A. Traub




Zodiac is a telescope-coronagraph system, operating at visible wavelengths, mounted on a balloon-borne gondola in the stratosphere. The science objective is to image debris disks around nearby stars. Debris disks, usually found in the outer reaches of a planetary system, are significant for exoplanet science because (a) they tell us that planet formation did actually get started around a star, (b) they are a contributing source of potentially obscuring dust to the inner part of the disk where we will someday start searching for terrestrial planets, and © for a disk with an inner edge, this feature is a signpost for a shepherding planet and thus a sign that planet formation did indeed proceed to completion around that star.

The telescope has a 1-m diameter, clear-aperture primary mirror, designed to operate in the cold stratospheric environment. The coronagraph is designed to suppress starlight, including its diffracted and scattered components, and allow a faint surrounding debris disk to be imaged. We will control the speckle background to be about 7 orders of magnitude fainter than the star, with detection sensitivity about one more order of magnitude fainter, in order to comfortably image the expected brightness of typical debris disks. Zodiac will be designed to make scientifically useful measurements on a conventional overnight balloon flight, but would also be fully compatible with future Ultra Long Duration Balloon flights. Zodiac has a technical objective of advancing the technology levels of future mission components from the lab to near-space flight status. These components include deformable mirrors, wavefront sensors, coronagraph masks, lightweight mirrors, precision pointing, and speckle rejection by wavefront control.

Attached documents

Lyot2010proc s5 poster TraubW.pdf
PDF, 1.7 Mb