Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zones of nearby stars with ground-based mid-infrared imaging

Kevin Wagner, Steve Ertel, Jordan Stone, Jarron Leisenring, Daniel Apai, Markus Kasper, Olivier Absil, Laird Close, Denis Defrère, Olivier Guyon, Jared Males

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations


Giant exoplanets on 10-100 au orbits have been directly imaged around young stars. The peak of the thermal emission from these warm young planets is in the near-infrared (a1/41-5 μm), whereas mature, temperate exoplanets (i.e., those within their stars' habitable zones) radiate primarily in the mid-infrared (mid-IR: A1/410 μm). If the background noise in the mid-IR can be mitigated, then exoplanets with low masses-including rocky exoplanets-can potentially be imaged in very deep exposures. Here, we review the recent results of the Breakthrough Watch/New Earths in the Alpha Centauri Region (NEAR) program on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. NEAR pioneered a ground-based mid-IR observing approach designed to push the capabilities for exoplanet imaging with a specific focus on the closest stellar system, Centauri. NEAR combined several new optical technologies-including a mid-IR optimized coronagraph, adaptive optics system, and rapid chopping strategy to mitigate noise from the central star and thermal background within the habitable zone. We focus on the lessons of the VLT/NEAR campaign to improve future instrumentation specifically on strategies to improve noise mitigation through chopping. We also present the design and commissioning of the Large Binocular Telescope's Exploratory Survey for Super-Earths Orbiting Nearby Stars (LESSONS), an experiment in the Northern hemisphere that is building on what was learned from NEAR to further push the sensitivity of mid-IR imaging. Finally, we briefly discuss some of the possibilities that mid-IR imaging will enable for exoplanet science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTechniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets X
EditorsStuart B. Shaklan, Garreth J. Ruane
ISBN (Electronic)9781510644847
StatePublished - 2021
EventTechniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets X 2021 - San Diego, United States
Duration: Aug 1 2021Aug 5 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceTechniques and Instrumentation for Detection of Exoplanets X 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego


  • Adaptive Optics
  • Alpha Centauri
  • Coronagraphic Imaging
  • Exoplanets
  • Ground-based Astronomy
  • High-contrast Imaging
  • Infrared Astronomy
  • mid-IR Imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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