MIRC-X is a 6-telescope beam combination instrument installed at the CHARA telescope array, which is the world’s highest-resolution imaging facility in infrared light, located at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California. The new instrument combines the light from telescopes spaced up to 330 metres apart, making MIRC-X ideally suited for imaging the close environment around stars with unprecedented, sub-milliarcsecond resolution.
The ambitious goal is to image the discs around young stars for the first time with 6-telescopes infrared interferometry. These discs constitute the left-over material from the star formation process and provide the stage where planets form. Once planets have formed, they shape the disc environment, for instance by carving out gaps or by stirring up the disc material in warps. Spotting these structures in the inner disc regions requires an angular resolution far beyond the reach of conventional telescopes. MIRC-X and CHARA overcome this resolution barrier by combining the light from physically separated telescopes, achieving the image sharpness of a 330m telescope. These new capabilities enable astronomers to obtain high-fidelity images of protoplanetary disc, providing a glimpse on how our own solar system might have looked like 4.6 billion years ago, during its formation phase.
The MIRC-X team is lead by Profs. Stefan Kraus (University of Exeter, UK) and John Monnier (University of Michigan, USA) and includes Narsireddy Anugu, Jean-Baptiste Le Bouquin, Claire Davies, Jacob Ennis, Tyler Gardner, Aaron Labdon, Cyprien Lanthermann, and Benjamin Setterholm. The first phase of the MIRC-X instrumentation project, which included the installation of an ultra-low read noise detector system, was completed in June/July 2017. Further sensitivity gains have been achieved by implemeting an innovative beam combination scheme that reduces the light injection losses. MIRC-X is in routine operation since October 2018.
The following papers outline the optical design of MIRC-X, as well as its science drivers and operational aspects:
(1) Anugu et al. AJ, in press: "MIRC-X: a highly-sensitive six telescope interferometric imager at the CHARA Array"
(2) Kraus et al. 2018, SPIE 10701: "The MIRC-X 6-telescope imager: key science drivers, instrument design and operation"
(3) Monnier et al. 2004, SPIE 5491: "The Michigan Infrared Combiner (MIRC): IR imaging with the CHARA Array"
This project has been funded by the European Research Council (Grant Agreement No. 639889) and builds on earlier funding from the USA's National Science Foundation.