The LBTI Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt

LEECH is a ~100 night exoplanet imaging survey that uses the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) to search for exoplanets around nearby stars.  While most direct imaging planet searches work in the near-infrared (H-band; ~1.6 μm), LEECH observes in the mid-infrared (L’; ~3.8 μm) where cool, low-mass planets emit most of their light, and adaptive optics performance is superb.  As planets age, they become fainter and redder, further increasing the advantage of mid-infrared surveys.  For this reason, LEECH is uniquely capable of discovering planets around very nearby stars (which tend to be older than most planet imaging targets) that are also targeted by radial-velocity and debris disk surveys.

In parallel with our search for giant exoplanets, we will search for exozodis (warm debris disks, mimicking our solar system’s zodiacal dust) using LBTI’s nulling interferometer, which suppresses star-light while transmitting faint thermal emission from dust in the habitable zones of nearby stars.  The exozodi survey (HOSTS: Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems) and exoplanet survey will be carried out simultaneously, using different science cameras, and will allow us to connect the presence of giant planets with inner debris disks.  Combined with existing RV planet searches, and Spitzer/Herschel measurements of outer debris disks, we will constrain the complete architectures of exoplanetary systems for the first time.

The goals of LEECH are to (1) discover new exoplanets, (2) characterize the atmospheres of newly discovered planets, (3) characterize the architectures of nearby planetary systems, and (4) establish meaningful constraints on the prevalence of wide-separation exoplanets.  LEECH began science observations in February 2013.

Last updated April 2013