Newton STFC-NARIT - EXOhSPEC

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Department Name: School of Physics, Astronomy and Maths

Abstract

The project is to build from catalogue components a new kind of high resolution spectrograph. The concept relies on separating the complexity introduced by Earth from the requirements on the spectrometer unit itself. This separation enables a massive reduction in size and complexity on the spectrometer side and it is the natural complement to Adaptive Optics technologies being developed elsewhere. The concepts demonstrated here might be used to save tens of millions of pounds in instrumentation costs on the coming generation of extremely large telescopes but also be reproducible by University, public and amateur observatories and offer a competitive alternative to the purchase of large inefficient Fourier transform spectrometers in the wider market place. The key developments that we wish to demonstrate are, (1) a compact inexpensive design that can achieve the same performance as existing instruments in terms of wavelength coverage and spectral resolution and (2) bespoke active metrology/actuation of the system to achieve -or even surpass- the best wavelength calibration stability at a fraction of construction and operation costs and to produce a prototype. While the testbed for this instrument is at the University of Hertfordshire, the actual prototype will be produced in Thailand. The Thai government has made a large investment in the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand and so they have the new laboratories to build the instrument and to test it on their newly built 0.7 and 2.4m telescopes.

Current high resolution spectrographs are large, expensive and difficult to maintain and are reserved to an elite of a handful universities and groups around the globe. Moreover, because these instruments are so expensive, technology cycles and designs have evolved very little and do not take advantage of the great quality improvement and reduced costs of new materials and mass produced optics. In a sense, the technology leap we want to embrace is like the one between the first digital cameras to the current smartphone technology.

The economic development and welfare of a country relies on key infrastructure and the capabilities of the workforce. In the field of physics and in particular astrophysics, the ability to design and make instruments and to measure and interpret the properties of the transitions in other planets, stars and galaxies is a key cornerstone to understand the properties of the Universe. High resolution spectroscopy has for decades being a primary tool of astrophysics and a driving force in enabling new fundamental astrophysics. From the discovery of planets around nearby stars to the direct measurement of the size of the Universe. Worldwide, the most oversubscribed instruments on telescopes have long been the high resolution spectrographs. Although Thailand has a large telescope and a number of smaller ones it does not have a high resolution spectrograph. The proposal is aimed at using Overseas Development Aid funding to develop Thai infrastructure and capabilities while at the same time opening up a new collaboration which should have long term benefit to the UK scientists and engineers.

Planned Impact

The partners have established yet different strengths, and the outcome of this project is envisaged to be one that widens the impact of each partner, but strengthens collaborations. Each has a strong track record of engagement with industry, other disciplines, the public and schools. Much of this capitalizes on infrastructure provided at the different institutions, which co-ordinates local programmes in training, enterprise and outreach. Students and research staff will be encouraged to participate in these activities, with emphasis on personal development but also as part of an appropriate engagement with non-scientists.

Knowledge Exchange
This project will develop new practise in high resolution spectrographs. Such an instrument is common with many areas outside astronomy such as medicine, bio-sciences, telecommunications, remote sensing and earth observation. Such developments may fall across a huge variety of commercial interests and all the UK research councils. The team would consider the licensing and commercialisation of IP, and we might seek out forums that would provide opportunities for researchers to meet with corporate and other non-astrophysics-based research sectors. We have good access to such events, particularly through the South East Physics Network.

Career Development
Researcher development is an important focus of the institutions training programmes. This project is highly collaborative and a fast moving area and suitable liaison with industry will be for short-term delivery of specifications but longer term development of new capabilities. We have active collaborations at all levels with groups very interested in this work, in particular, Sydney (Bland-Hawthorn), Penn State (Larry Ramsey), Arcetri (Tino Olivia), Potsdam (Roger Haynes) and Gottingen (Ansgar Reiners) and are likely to be in communication with some of these groups during the project (exchanges of RAs and PhD students are possible though not specifically envisaged).

Public Engagement and Outreach
The project team has a remit to develop outreach activities related to astronomical research/ technology. Our project will fall nicely into these categories, as it combines novel optical devices with a potential for discussing exoplanets - one of the most popular areas of public engagement. We regularly host groups of teachers and students for visits to our labs, and our spectrograph - and its science applications - would no doubt represent a fascinating item to discuss with them. NARIT is particularly organised with regard to public engagement, for example they regular allow eyepiece observing through their 2.4m telescope. We look forward to learning from them.

Exoplanets and new instrumentation is a particularly good niche for communication through local, national and international media appearances and we are fully aware of the intense interest having recently announced Proxima b. Outreach and public engagement are core elements of our activities and we would expect that all researchers would be involved in open days and evenings, school visits and talks to local astronomical societies. Our prototype together with input from Bath - fibres, Durham - adaptive optics, Heriot Watt - laser comb would make for a particularly exciting Royal Society exhibition and we could consider a proposal for such an exhibition.
 
Description We have built a laboratory prototype of a small high-resolution spectrograph from off the shelf parts with efficiency and stability similar to state-of-the art high-cost instruments. In addition to large cost savings, this provides a stepping stone for high-resolution spectrographs to benefit from adaptive optics technologies and due to the size reduction opens up their potential deployment as space-based instruments.
Exploitation Route An on-sky prototype in order to make suitable measurements and develop a facility instrument.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

 
Description A prototype of the instrument was built by the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand for their on-campus telescope used for public outreach.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Thai Royal Government Scholarship Student
Amount ฿2,500,000 (THB)
Organisation Government of Thailand 
Sector Public
Country Thailand
Start 11/2017 
End 11/2021
 
Title EXOhSPEC data reduction 
Description Software takes a fits image containing a cross-dispersed spectrum and extracts the spectral orders regardless of separation and curvature, applies wavelength correction and other standard data reduction procedures. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This can be used for the extraction of a spectrum from any cross-dispersed spectrograph with a bifurcated fibre. 
URL https://github.com/ronnyerrmann/exohspec/
 
Title flexible data reduction tool to extract echelle spectra, developed for the EXOhSPEC spectrograph 
Description Software takes a fits image containing a cross-dispersed spectrum and extracts the spectral orders regardless of separation and curvature, applies wavelength correction and other standard data reduction procedures. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This can be used for the extraction of a spectrum from any cross-dispersed spectrograph with a bifurcated fibre. 
URL https://github.com/ronnyerrmann/exohspec/