Project PANDORA

Pandora1&2

The Pandora project is an international collaboration to fabricate and deploy the next-generation of “planet-hunting” spectrographs on the world’s largest telescopes, using advanced on-chip photonic technologies.

The unprecedented levels of stability offered by photonic platforms allows researchers to find and study Earth-like exoplanets in distant solar systems. Pandora is split into three concurrent research streams.

Stream 1

Before photonic platforms can be used for astronomy the project must be the first to demonstrate efficient coupling of starlight from a telescope directly into Single Mode photonics. This part of the project is developed jointly with the SCExAO Extreme Adaptive Optics group at the 8m Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

To achieve this, researchers have constructed a “Photonic Injection” module as part of the SCExAO instrument, which corrects the turbulence from the atmosphere to unprecedented levels in real-time, thus changing the telescope’s focal spot from a messy ‘seeing-limited’ blur to a precise diffraction-limited spot.

Further, the light undergoes Phase Induced Amplitude Apodisation (PIAA), to match the telescope spot to the single-mode acceptance. Dr. Nemanja Jovanovic and Dr. Olivier Guyon, recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, are lead collaborators with this part of the project.

Pandora3&4

Fibre imjection mogule on SCExAO. The system can automatically switch between injection of three different fibres (left). The PIAA lenses allow the module to obtain optimal coupling above what would normally be obtainable on a telescope (right).

Pandora5

The view from the Suburu Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii with two 10m Keck telescopes (far right) and the shiny dome of the Gemini North Telescope. Many observatories call the summit home due to its elevation well above the clouds at 4,200m.

Stream 2

The second stream is the fabrication and implementation of on-chip photonic spectrographs into which the light from the telescope is injected. These devices miniaturise what would traditionally be an entire room full of optics onto a chip that fits in the palm of your hand. This is achieved using microscopic channels in glass which guide light (waveguides). These components lie at the heart of PANDORA allowing it to achieve unparalleled efficiency and stability. As this is the first time such a technology has been implemented on a telescope, we also develop new techniques to handle and analyse astronomic data from photonic devices. Dr. Nick Cvetojevic at CUDOS (University of Sydney) & the AAO leads this part of the project, with strong collaboration with the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA), and the Macquarie University CUDOS node.

Pandora 6 & 7

The Integrated Photonic Spectrograph unit takes starlight injected into a single mode fibre at the telescope focal plane and spectrally disperses it at the chip’s output. The self-contained device is packaged in our labs for easy handling at the summit and is placed in the reimaging and detector optics.

Stream 3

Pandora8

Dr. Nemanja Jovanovic and Dr. Nick Cvetojevic in the control room celebrating the first successful starlight measured by the photonic system.

Lastly, is the creation of miniature photonic calibration sources to obtain precise measurements of exoplanets. This part of the project uses fibre fabry-perot resonators, locked to Rubidium transitions, to achieve a precision using a device that can fit in a shoebox, what would usually fit in an entire laboratory. And is done in collaboration with NASA Sagan Fellow Dr. Christian Schwab, at Pennsylvania State University.

The resulting instrument combines not only the most advanced injection capabilities yet demonstrated on a telescope, but also
the world’s first integrated photonic platform for exoplanet science.

The PANDORA project is a partnership between CUDOS, The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), The University of Sydney, Macquarie University, The Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and Pennsylvania
State University.

For information on Masters and PhD projects available on the Pandora project, contact

Pandora9

The SCExAO, VAMPIRES and PANDORA team members on a crater ridge on Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Pandora10