Given that interferometry is becoming the technique of choice for directly detecting and characterizing the bulk of exoplanets from the ground in the near future (before ELTs) and given the prospects of upcoming and future instruments (VLTI/GRAVITY+ , VLTI/Hi-5, Keck/VFN, LIFE mission), a workshop bringing the community together to determine the best path forward is warranted.
The workshop will focus on new concepts for interferometric observations for exoplanet research including: how new micro-thruster technologies and innovative, new low cost spacecraft might enable separated spacecraft concepts such as the new Large Interferometer for Exoplanets (LIFE) mission now under study by ESA; how novel materials may allow the use of integrated optics for interferometric recombination in the MIR; how low-noise, high QE MIR detector technologies can be further advanced; how near-term high dynamic range interferometric efforts on ground-based telescopes can demonstrate new technologies relevant to space-based missions; how interferometric astrometry on separated spacecraft might take advantage of new technological approaches to achieve the <0.1 micro-arcsec precision needed to detect and characterize the masses and orbits of Earth analogs otherwise not detectable via the RV technique.
In this context, the aim of our workshop is to address the following questions:
- What are the immediate next steps required to enable space-based interferometry, including a possible smallsat formation flying pathfinder?
- How can ground-based interferometry help test and develop some of the key technologies and new ideas paving the way to a future space mission like LIFE? How do we support such developments?
- How do we overcome the limitations currently preventing us from detecting exoplanets within the diffraction limit of individual telescopes using interferometry?
- How do we best incorporate and further develop state-of-the-art technologies (e.g., photonics-based beam combination, precision formation flying, advanced data processing techniques and low noise ultra-stable MIR detectors) to maximize the success of a future space-based mission like LIFE?
- Could a space interferometry mission optimized for the direct characterization of exo-Earths also provide precise enough stellar astrometry to determine planet masses?
We will also use the workshop setting to begin coordinating follow-up research activities, including numerical and optical studies, grant writing, and dissemination of results.