Searching for faint companions to nearby stars with the Hubble Space Telescope.
SCHROEDER D.J. and GOLIMOWSKI D.A.
Abstract (from CDS):
A search for faint companions (FC's) to selected stars within 5 pc of the Sun using the Hubble Space Telescope's Planetary Camera (PC) has been initiated. To assess the PC's ability to detect FC's, we have constructed both model and laboratory-simulated images and compared them to actual PC images. We find that the PC's point-spread function (PSF) is 3-4 times brighter over the angular range 2"-5" than the PSF expected for a perfect optical system. Azimuthal variations of the PC's PSF are 10-20 times larger than expected for a perfect PSF. These variations suggest that light is scattered nonuniformly from the surface of the detector. Because the anomalies in the PC's PSF cannot be precisely simulated, subtracting a reference PSF from the PC image is problematic. We have developed a computer algorithm that identifies local brightness anomalies within the PSF as potential FC's. We find that this search algorithm will successfully locate FC's anywhere within the circumstellar field provided that the average pixel signal from the FC is at least 10 sigma above the local background. This detection limit suggests that a comprehensive search for extrasolar Jovian planets with the PC is impractical. However, the PC is useful for detecting other types of substellar objects. With a stellar signal of 10^9 e-, for example, we may readily detect brown dwarfs as faint as M_I = 16.7 separated by 1" from alpha Cen A.