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Published August 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

The Exozodiacal Dust Problem for Direct Observations of Exo-Earths


Debris dust in the habitable zones of stars—otherwise known as exozodiacal dust—comes from extrasolar asteroids and comets and is thus an expected part of a planetary system. Background flux from the solar system's zodiacal dust and the exozodiacal dust in the target system is likely to be the largest source of astrophysical noise in direct observations of terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars. Furthermore, dust structures like clumps, thought to be produced by dynamical interactions with exoplanets, are a possible source of confusion. In this article, we qualitatively assess the primary impact of exozodiacal dust on high-contrast direct imaging at optical wavelengths, such as would be performed with a coronagraph. Then we present the sensitivity of previous, current, and near-term facilities to thermal emission from debris dust at all distances from nearby solar-type stars, as well as our current knowledge of dust levels from recent surveys. Finally, we address the other method of detecting debris dust, through high-contrast imaging in scattered light. This method is currently far less sensitive than thermal emission observations, but provides high spatial resolution for studying dust structures. This article represents the first report of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG).

Additional Information

© 2012 The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Received 2012 March 30; accepted 2012 June 7; published 2012 August 17. This work was performed by members of the Debris Disks & Exozodiacal Dust Study Analysis Group (SAG #1), part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG). Current SAG #1 members are O. Absil, J.-C. Augereau, G. Bryden, J. H. Catanzarite, C. H. Chen, T. P. Greene, P. M. Hinz, M. J. Kuchner, C. M. Lisse, B. A. Macintosh, R. Millan-Gabet, M. C. Noecker, S. T. Ridgway, A. Roberge (Team Lead), R. Soummer, K. R. Stapelfeldt, C. C. Stark, A. J. Weinberger, and M. C. Wyatt.

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August 19, 2023
October 19, 2023