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The path towards high-contrast imaging with the VLTI: the Hi-5 project

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Abstract

The development of high-contrast capabilities has long been recognized as one of the top priorities for the VLTI. As of today, the VLTI routinely achieves contrasts of a few 10− 3 in the near-infrared with PIONIER (H band) and GRAVITY (K band). Nulling interferometers in the northern hemisphere and non-redundant aperture masking experiments have, however, demonstrated that contrasts of at least a few 10− 4 are within reach using specific beam combination and data acquisition techniques. In this paper, we explore the possibility to reach similar or higher contrasts on the VLTI. After reviewing the state-of-the-art in high-contrast infrared interferometry, we discuss key features that made the success of other high-contrast interferometric instruments (e.g., integrated optics, nulling, closure phase, and statistical data reduction) and address possible avenues to improve the contrast of the VLTI by at least one order of magnitude. In particular, we discuss the possibility to use integrated optics, proven in the near-infrared, in the thermal near-infrared (L and M bands, 3-5 \(\upmu \)m), a sweet spot to image and characterize young extra-solar planetary systems. Finally, we address the science cases of a high-contrast VLTI imaging instrument and focus particularly on exoplanet science (young exoplanets, planet formation, and exozodiacal disks), stellar physics (fundamental parameters and multiplicity), and extragalactic astrophysics (active galactic nuclei and fundamental constants). Synergies and scientific preparation for other potential future instruments such as the Planet Formation Imager are also briefly discussed. This project is called Hi-5 for High-contrast Interferometry up to 5 μm.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the support from the H2020 OPTICON Joint Research Network. DD and OA thank the Belgian national funds for scientific research (FNRS). SK acknowledges support from an ERC Starting Grant (Grant Agreement No. 639889) and STFC Rutherford Fellowship (ST/J004030/1).

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Defrère, D., Absil, O., Berger, JP. et al. The path towards high-contrast imaging with the VLTI: the Hi-5 project. Exp Astron 46, 475–495 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10686-018-9593-2

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