This artistâ¤?s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which is part of a triple star system. The other two more distant stars, Gliese 667 A and B appear in the sky also to the right. Astronomers have estimated that there are tens of billions of such rocky worlds orbiting faint red dwarf stars in the Milky Way alone.This artist’s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 C-c. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which together with Gliese A and B forms part of a triple star system. Gliese A and B are more distant from the planet and appear in the sky to the right. Image credit: ESO / L. Calçada.

EPICS is the proposed E-ELT high-contrast imager for the characterization of exoplanets including rocky exoplanets in the habitable zone. Due to its importance for the scientific success of the E-ELT, ESO has in principle approved EPICS for construction as soon as the technology has become sufficiently mature. NOVA efforts on EPICS over the last three years have focused on developing the key technologies and understanding systems aspects.

EPICS will answer the following scientific questions: are planetary systems like the Solar System common? How frequently do rocky planets settle in habitable zones, where water is liquid on the surface? Do the atmospheres of exoplanets resemble those of the planets in the Solar System? How is pre-biotic material distributed in protoplanetary discs? Are there signs of life on any exoplanets?

To achieve these goals, EPICS will combine:

  1. – Extreme Adaptive Optics to minimize wavefront aberrations.
  2. – Advanced coronagraphy to minimize diffracted starlight.
  3. – Sensitive spectroscopy and polarimetry to distinguish exoplanet light from starlight and detect methane, carbon monoxide, water vapor, liquid water and molecular oxygen.
  4. – Data reduction methods to provide additional separation of true exoplanet signals from remaining starlight.

During the Phase A study in 2008-2010, a conceptual design was developed. This design will be updated during the coming years based on the experience gained with SPHERE at the VLT and other high-contrast imaging projects.

A paper describing the EPICS concept in detail can be downloaded here.

The NOVA principal investigator for EPICS is Prof. dr. Christoph Keller (Leiden observatory).

Image below: a) Laboratory wavefront correction with more than 50.000 actuators using the new Fast & Furious algorithm. b) Simulation of a combined coronagraph and focal-plane wavefront sensor using a single holographic element. c) On-sky image of a star with the new vAPP coronagraph at the MagAO facility. d) A part of Venus observed with the ExPo spectropolarimetric Integral Field Unit at the William Herschel Telescope. © NOVA

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