skip to main content

Title: Demonstration of stellar intensity interferometry with the four VERITAS telescopes
High angular resolution observations at optical wavelengths provide valuable insights into stellar astrophysics, and enable direct measurements of fundamental stellar parameters and the probing of stellar atmospheres, circumstellar disks, the elongation of rapidly rotating stars and the pulsations of Cepheid variable stars. The angular size of most stars is of the order of one milliarcsecond or less, and to spatially resolve stellar disks and features at this scale requires an optical interferometer using an array of telescopes with baselines on the order of hundreds of metres. We report on the implementation of a stellar intensity interferometry system developed for the four VERITAS imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes. The system was used to measure the angular diameter of the two sub-milliarcsecond stars β Canis Majoris and ϵ Orionis with a precision of greater than 5%. The system uses an offline approach in which starlight intensity fluctuations that are recorded at each telescope are correlated post observation. The technique can be readily scaled onto tens to hundreds of telescopes, providing a capability that has proven technically challenging to the current generation of optical amplitude interferometry observatories. This work demonstrates the feasibility of performing astrophysical measurements using imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescope arrays as intensity interferometers and shows the promise for integrating an intensity interferometry system within future observatories such as the Cherenkov Telescope Array.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1707432 1807029 1806262 1913552 1607128 1914579 1913313 1913798
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nature Astronomy
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The angular size of a star is a critical factor in determining its basic properties. Direct measurement of stellar angular diameters is difficult: at interstellar distances stars are generally too small to resolve by any individual imaging telescope. This fundamental limitation can be overcome by studying the diffraction pattern in the shadow cast when an asteroid occults a star, but only when the photometric uncertainty is smaller than the noise added by atmospheric scintillation. Atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes used for particle astrophysics observations have not generally been exploited for optical astronomy due to the modest optical quality of the mirror surface. However, their large mirror area makes them well suited for such high-time-resolution precision photometry measurements. Here we report two occultations of stars observed by the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) Cherenkov telescopes with millisecond sampling, from which we are able to provide a direct measurement of the occulted stars’ angular diameter at the ≤0.1 mas scale. This is a resolution never achieved before with optical measurements and represents an order of magnitude improvement over the equivalent lunar occultation method. We compare the resulting stellar radius with empirically derived estimates from temperature and brightness measurements, confirming the latter can be biased for stars with ambiguous stellar classifications. 
    more » « less
  2. Mérand, Antoine ; Sallum, Stephanie ; Sanchez-Bermudez, Joel (Ed.)
    The VERITAS Imaging Air Cherenkov Telescope array (IACT) was augmented in 2019 with high-speed focal plane electronics to create a new Stellar Intensity Interferometry (SII) observational capability (VERITAS-SII, or VSII). VSII operates during bright moon periods, providing high angular resolution observations ( < 1 mas) in the B photometric band using idle telescope time. VSII has already demonstrated the ability to measure the diameters of two B stars at 416 nm (Bet CMa and Eps Ori) with < 5% accuracy using relatively short (5 hours) exposures.1 The VSII instrumentation was recently improved to increase instrumental sensitivity and observational efficiency. This paper describes the upgraded VSII instrumentation and documents the ongoing improvements in VSII sensitivity. The report describes VSII’s progress in extending SII measurements to dimmer magnitude stars and improving the VSII angular diameter measurement resolution to better than 1%. 
    more » « less
  3. A modern implementation of a stellar intensity interferometry (SII) system on an array of large optical telescopes would be a highly valuable complement to the current generation of optical amplitude interferometers. The SII technique allows for observations at short optical wavelengths (U/B/V bands) with potentially dense (u,v) plane coverage. We describe a complete SII system that is used to measure the spatial coherence of a laboratory source which exhibits signal to noise ratios comparable to actual stellar sources. A novel analysis method, based on the correlation measurements between orthogonal polarization states, was developed to remove unwanted effects of spurious correlations. Our system is currently being tested in night sky observations at the StarBase Observatory (Grantsville, Utah) and will soon be ported to the VERITAS (Amado, AZ) telescopes. The system can readily be integrated with current optical telescopes at minimal cost. The work here serves as a technological pathfinder for implementing SII on the future Cherenkov Telescope Array. 
    more » « less

    Type II-P supernovæ (SNe), the most common core-collapse SNe type, result from the explosions of red supergiant stars. Their detection in the radio domain testifies of the presence of relativistic electrons, and shows that they are potentially efficient energetic particle accelerators. If hadrons can also be accelerated, these energetic particles are expected to interact with the surrounding medium to produce a gamma-ray signal even in the multi–TeV range. The intensity of this signal depends on various factors, but an essential one is the density of the circumstellar medium. Such a signal should however be limited by electron–positron pair production arising from the interaction of the gamma-ray photons with optical photons emitted by the supernova photosphere, which can potentially degrade the gamma-ray signal by over ten orders of magnitude in the first days/weeks following the explosion. We calculate the gamma-gamma opacity from a detailed modelling of the time evolution of the forward shock and supernova photosphere, taking a full account of the non-isotropy of the photon interactions. We discuss the time-dependent gamma-ray TeV emission from Type II-P SNe as a function of the stellar progenitor radius and mass-loss rate, as well as the explosion energy and mass of the ejected material. We evaluate the detectability of the SNe with the next generation of Cherenkov telescopes. We find that, while most extragalactic events may be undetectable, Type II-P SNe exploding in our Galaxy or in the Magellanic Clouds should be detected by gamma-ray observatories such as the upcoming Cherenkov Telescope Array.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Most massive stars are so distant that their angular diameters are too small for direct resolution. However, the observational situation is now much more favorable, thanks to new opportunities available with optical/IR long-baseline interferometry. The Georgia State University Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy Array at Mount Wilson Observatory is a six-telescope instrument with a maximum baseline of 330 meters, which is capable of resolving stellar disks with diameters as small as 0.2 milliarcsec. The distant stars are no longer out of range, and many kinds of investigations are possible. Here we summarize a number of studies involving angular diameter measurements and effective temperature estimates for OB stars, binary and multiple stars (including the σ Orionis system), and outflows in Luminous Blue Variables. An enlarged visitors program will begin in 2017 that will open many opportunities for new programs in high angular resolution astronomy. 
    more » « less