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Astrophysics Colloquium

The Search for Another Earth Using Space Telescopes with Starshades: Realistic Image Simulation and Signal Detection
Presented by Mengya Hu
Princeton University

Monday, September 14, 2020
Virtual Event starts at 12:00 noon

Directly imaging Earth-like planets around nearby stars is one of the most intriguing astronomy goals in recent decades. The key challenge of this goal is that the target planets are only tens of milliarcseconds away from their host stars, which are around 1e10 times brighter than the target planets. An important solution to this challenge is using a starshade to suppress the starlight. The starshade is an external occulter to block the starlight from reaching the space telescope but leave the planet light unaffected.

My project investigates the ability to detect and extract information about planet signals in various cases with a starshade. As there is no starshade in any existing missions yet, no real starshade images are available. Thus, the first part of my work is dedicated to the simulation of realistic images for starshade missions, which includes various errors such as starshade shape errors and detector noise. With the simulated realistic images, I have also worked on the detection of the weak planet signals in starshade images with various errors. The generalized maximum likelihood ratio test (GLRT) is used, which can efficiently detect planet signals given a specific false alarm rate. I further develop a sequential GLRT, which is specialized for photon counting (PC) images. The sequential GLRT can be used online and thus optimizes the observation time. The whole project visualizes how an exoplanet system looks under different conditions and demonstrates the powerful planet detection ability of the starshade despite errors.

JPL Contact: Renyu Hu

SVCP Astrophysics

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