Imaging low-mass planets within the habitable zone of α Centauri

K. Wagner, A. Boehle, P. Pathak, M. Kasper, R. Arsenault, G. Jakob, U. Käufl, S. Leveratto, A. L. Maire, E. Pantin, R. Siebenmorgen, G. Zins, O. Absil, N. Ageorges, D. Apai, A. Carlotti, Choquet, C. Delacroix, K. Dohlen, P. DuhouxP. Forsberg, E. Fuenteseca, S. Gutruf, O. Guyon, E. Huby, D. Kampf, M. Karlsson, P. Kervella, J. P. Kirchbauer, P. Klupar, J. Kolb, D. Mawet, M. N’Diaye, G. Orban de Xivry, S. P. Quanz, A. Reutlinger, G. Ruane, M. Riquelme, C. Soenke, M. Sterzik, A. Vigan, T. de Zeeuw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Giant exoplanets on wide orbits have been directly imaged around young stars. If the thermal background in the mid-infrared can be mitigated, then exoplanets with lower masses can also be imaged. Here we present a ground-based mid-infrared observing approach that enables imaging low-mass temperate exoplanets around nearby stars, and in particular within the closest stellar system, α Centauri. Based on 75–80% of the best quality images from 100 h of cumulative observations, we demonstrate sensitivity to warm sub-Neptune-sized planets throughout much of the habitable zone of α Centauri A. This is an order of magnitude more sensitive than state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging mass detection limits. We also discuss a possible exoplanet or exozodiacal disk detection around α Centauri A. However, an instrumental artifact of unknown origin cannot be ruled out. These results demonstrate the feasibility of imaging rocky habitable-zone exoplanets with current and upcoming telescopes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number922
JournalNature communications
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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