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Published January 27, 2016 | Published
Journal Article Open

Demonstration of a near-IR line-referenced electro-optical laser frequency comb for precision radial velocity measurements in astronomy


An important technique for discovering and characterizing planets beyond our solar system relies upon measurement of weak Doppler shifts in the spectra of host stars induced by the influence of orbiting planets. A recent advance has been the introduction of optical frequency combs as frequency references. Frequency combs produce a series of equally spaced reference frequencies and they offer extreme accuracy and spectral grasp that can potentially revolutionize exoplanet detection. Here we demonstrate a laser frequency comb using an alternate comb generation method based on electro-optical modulation, with the comb centre wavelength stabilized to a molecular or atomic reference. In contrast to mode-locked combs, the line spacing is readily resolvable using typical astronomical grating spectrographs. Built using commercial off-the-shelf components, the instrument is relatively simple and reliable. Proof of concept experiments operated at near-infrared wavelengths were carried out at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the Keck-II telescope.

Additional Information

© 2014 California Institute of Technology. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Received 27 Aug 2015. Accepted 10 Dec 2015. Published 27 Jan 2016. Three IRTF nights were donated in September 2014 to integrate and test the laser comb with CSHELL. One of these nights came from IRTF engineering time and the other two came from Peter Plavchan's CSHELL program to observe nearby M dwarfs with the absorption gas cell to obtain precise radial velocities. We are grateful to the leadership of the IRTF, Director Alan Tokunaga and Deputy Director John Rayner, as well as to the daytime and night time staff at the summit for their support. We further thank Jeremy Colson at Wavelength References for his assistance with the molecular-stabilized lasers. On-sky observations were obtained at the Infrared Telescope Facility, which is operated by the University of Hawaii under Cooperative Agreement no. NNX-08AE38A with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Science Mission Directorate, Planetary Astronomy Program. Daytime operations at the Keck-II telescope were carried out with the assistance of Sean Adkins and Steve Milner. We greatfully acknowledge the support of the entire Keck summit team in making these tests possible. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain. The data presented herein were obtained at the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W.M. Keck Foundation. We also acknowledge support from NIST and the NSF grant AST-1310875. This research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and funded through the President's and Director's Fund Program. Contributions: X.Y., K.V., J.L., S.D., P.P., S.L., G.V., P.C. and C.B. conceived the experiments. All co-authors designed and performed experiments. X.Y. and K.V. prepared the manuscript with input from all co-authors. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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