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Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zone of α Centauri

Wagner, K. and Boehle, A. and Pathak, P. and Kasper, M. and Arsenault, R. and Jakob, G. and Käufl, U. and Leveratto, S. and Maire, A.-L. and Pantin, É. and Siebenmorgen, R. and Zins, G. and Absil, O. and Ageorges, N. and Apai, D. and Carlotti, A. and Choquet, É. and Delacroix, C. and Dohlen, K. and Duhoux, P. and Forsberg, P. and Fuenteseca, E. and Gutruf, S. and Guyon, O. and Huby, E. and Kampf, D. and Karlsson, M. and Kervella, P. and Kirchbauer, J.-P. and Klupar, P. and Kolb, J. and Mawet, D. and N’Diaye, M. and Orban de Xivry, G. and Quanz, S. P. and Reutlinger, A. and Ruane, G. and Riquelme, M. and Soenke, C. and Sterzik, M. and Vigan, A. and de Zeeuw, T. (2021) Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zone of α Centauri. Nature Communications, 12 . Art. No. 922. ISSN 2041-1723. PMCID PMC7876126; PMC8099858. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21176-6.

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Giant exoplanets on wide orbits have been directly imaged around young stars. If the thermal background in the mid-infrared can be mitigated, then exoplanets with lower masses can also be imaged. Here we present a ground-based mid-infrared observing approach that enables imaging low-mass temperate exoplanets around nearby stars, and in particular within the closest stellar system, α Centauri. Based on 75–80% of the best quality images from 100 h of cumulative observations, we demonstrate sensitivity to warm sub-Neptune-sized planets throughout much of the habitable zone of α Centauri A. This is an order of magnitude more sensitive than state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging mass detection limits. We also discuss a possible exoplanet or exozodiacal disk detection around α Centauri A. However, an instrumental artifact of unknown origin cannot be ruled out. These results demonstrate the feasibility of imaging rocky habitable-zone exoplanets with current and upcoming telescopes.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle Correction CentralAuthor Correction Paper
Wagner, K.0000-0002-4309-6343
Boehle, A.0000-0003-0439-7634
Pathak, P.0000-0003-3991-6107
Kasper, M.0000-0002-8425-6606
Käufl, U.0000-0002-8806-9795
Maire, A.-L.0000-0002-2591-4138
Pantin, É.0000-0001-6472-2844
Siebenmorgen, R.0000-0002-9788-672X
Zins, G.0000-0001-8862-7702
Absil, O.0000-0002-4006-6237
Apai, D.0000-0003-3714-5855
Carlotti, A.0000-0002-5859-0141
Choquet, É.0000-0002-9173-0740
Delacroix, C.0000-0003-0150-4430
Dohlen, K.0000-0001-8248-2397
Guyon, O.0000-0002-1097-9908
Huby, E.0000-0002-1342-2822
Karlsson, M.0000-0002-2011-0851
Kervella, P.0000-0003-0626-1749
Mawet, D.0000-0002-8895-4735
N’Diaye, M.0000-0002-1721-3294
Orban de Xivry, G.0000-0002-4790-415X
Quanz, S. P.0000-0003-3829-7412
Ruane, G.0000-0003-4769-1665
Sterzik, M.0000-0002-5784-4437
Vigan, A.0000-0002-5902-7828
Additional Information:© The Author(s) 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit Received 06 October 2020; Accepted 13 January 2021; Published 10 February 2021. NEAR was made possible by contributions from the Breakthrough Watch program, as well as contributions from the European Southern Observatory, including director’s discretionary time. Breakthrough Watch is managed by the Breakthrough Initiatives, sponsored by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. We would like to thank Rus Belikov, Eduardo Bendek, Bernhard Brandl, Ryan Endsley, Rachel Fernandes, Kaitlin Kratter, Christian Marois, Michael Meyer, and Maxwell Moe for fruitful discussions and advice. The results reported herein benefited from collaborations and/or information exchange within NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) research coordination network sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. This work was supported by the National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, by the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique—FNRS under Grant no F.4504.18, by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement no. 819155) and under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (grant agreement no 337569), and by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (grant for Concerted Research Actions). K.W. acknowledges support from NASA through the NASA Hubble Fellowship grant HST-HF2-51472.001-A awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Incorporated, under NASA contract NAS5-26555. A.B. and S.P.Q. acknowledge the financial support of the Swiss National Science Foundation. G.R. was supported by an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship under award AST-1602444. Data availability: All data from the NEAR campaign are publicly available at under program ID 2102.C-5011(A). Original and processed data are also available from the corresponding author upon request. Author Contributions: M. Kasper contributed as the NEAR experiment lead. K.W., A.B., P.P., M. Kasper, É.C., and S.P.Q. contributed to the data analysis. K.W., A.B., P.P., M. Kasper, and D.A. contributed to the preparation of the manuscript. K.W., A.B., U.K., A.-L.M., E.P., R.S., O.A., N.A., D.A., O.G., D.M., S.P.Q., M.S., A.V., and T.Z. contributed scientific advice. M. Kasper, U.K., A.-L.M, E.P., R.S., G.Z., O.A., and J.K. contributed to campaign observations. R.A. contributed to experiment management. G.J. contributed to experiment engineering (mechanics, system). U.K. contributed to experiment engineering (optics, system). A.-L.M., O.A., P.F., E.H., M. Karlsson, D.M., G.O.X., and G.R. contributed to experiment engineering (coronagraph). A.C. and G.R. contributed to coronagraph apodizer design. G.Z. and P.D. contributed to experiment engineering (software). N.A. N.A., S.G., D.K., S.L., A.R., and M.R. contributed to experiment engineering (system). C.D. contributed to experiment testing (coronagraph). K.D., M.N.D., and A.V. contributed to experiment engineering (non-common path aberrations). E.F. contributed to experiment engineering (cooling). O.G. and P. Klupar contributed to experiment oversight. P. Kervella contributed to the analysis of the background star hypothesis. J.-P.K. contributed to experiment engineering (mechanics). C.S. contributed to experiment engineering (electronics). J.K. contributed to adaptive optics operation. M.N.D. and M.R. contributed to experiment commissioning. M.S. and T.Z. contributed to project oversight. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature Communications thanks Andy Skemer and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.
Errata:Wagner, K., Boehle, A., Pathak, P. et al. Author Correction: Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zone of α Centauri. Nat Commun 12, 2651 (2021).
Group:Astronomy Department
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Breakthrough Prize FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)UNSPECIFIED
Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS)F.4504.18
European Research Council (ERC)819155
European Research Council (ERC)337569
Wallonia-Brussels FederationUNSPECIFIED
NASA Hubble FellowshipHST-HF2-51472.001-A
NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics FellowshipAST-1602444
Subject Keywords:Exoplanets
PubMed Central ID:PMC7876126; PMC8099858
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210217-071454983
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Wagner, K., Boehle, A., Pathak, P. et al. Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zone of α Centauri. Nat Commun 12, 922 (2021).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108081
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:18 Feb 2021 19:47
Last Modified:04 Jan 2022 20:38

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