Collaborative Research: An Agile Electro-Optic Frequency Comb for Precision Near-Infrared Radial Velocity Spectroscopy with the Habitable Zone Planet Finder

Project: Research project

Project Details


This research project will focus on improving tools for finding and studying planets around nearby stars, referred to as exoplanets. Such a search is driven by questions about origins, the uniqueness of Earth, and the potential for other life in the galaxy. A method to find planets around other stars involves looking for periodic changes in the spectrum (color) of the light emitted by a star as the planet circles it. These color changes are far too small to be discerned by a human eye; detecting them requires special tools. For this purpose, an advanced laser frequency comb, which is like an ultra-precise ruler for light waves, will be built and used with an instrument on a telescope called the Habitable Zone Planet Finder. Together, these tools will measure the very small changes in the color of starlight needed to discover exoplanets. This project will push the limits of technology as it applies advances from the 2005 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Physics to the goal of finding planets.

This cross-disciplinary and collaborative research project looks to advance a broad range of photonic and astronomical instrumentation tools that are critical for exoplanet science. This includes the introduction of new modalities for laser frequency combs, and there use to push the precision of radial velocity spectroscopy in the near-infrared to below 1 m/s. Improved overall instrument precision will in turn open avenues to address other barriers to precise radial velocities, such as stellar activity and telluric contamination. The result of this work will address such challenges in the much-less-developed NIR and will provide the tools required to discover habitable zone planets around cooler M-dwarfs. The potential of laser frequency combs for enabling in-situ detector characterization and precise radial velocities is substantial and wide-ranging. The proposed collaborative research brings together astronomers, instrument builders, and laser physicists to demonstrate new functionality for a laser frequency comb that will advance the technology beyond a static 'picket fence' calibrator to a user-defined comb with dynamically-tunable frequencies and amplitudes that will enable study of the properties of the HxRG infrared detector arrays that are used across astronomical disciplines. These gains will significantly enhance the capabilities of an existing telescope and facility, and will also demonstrate technology for the future generation of precision RV spectrometers and other astronomical instruments.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $223,699.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.