MAROON-X: A radial velocity spectrograph to identify habitable worlds

Status: (09/28/2016) PDR held June 2014. Contract signed with KiwiStar Optics for the core spectrograph in June 2015. FDR held in August 2015. Lab environmental control chamber stabilized to 10mK completed. Currently prototyping and testing key components like the pupil slicer, wavelength calibrator, and optical fibers. First light for the spectrograph was achieved at Kiwistar Optics in New Zealand in September 2016. Final alignment and integration are underway. The spectrograph is expected to be delivered to Chicago in by the end of 2016.

See the paper that was presented by our team at the most recent SPIE conference for a discussion of the design and construction of MAROON-X.

Project description:
We aim to build a new instrument with the capability to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of mid- to late-M dwarfs using the radial velocity method. The instrument will be a high-resolution, bench-mounted spectrograph capable of delivering 1 m/s radial velocity precision for M dwarfs down to and beyond V = 16. It will be installed at one of the 6.5m Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory. The capability that this instrument will have is well beyond the reach of any existing instrument. The anticipated uses for the instrument are to (1) conduct a radial velocity only survey for potentially habitable planets around nearby mid- to late-M dwarfs and (2) to confirm and measure the masses of low-mass planet candidates identified in the habitable zones of M dwarfs by ground- and space-based transit surveys. These later objects will be the best objects for future atmospheric studies of potentially habitable planets.

The main constraint for the instrument is set by the desired wavelength coverage. The important wavelength range for the instrument is 700 -- 900 nm because this is the region containing the maximum radial velocity information for mid to late M dwarfs. There is no gas cell useful for this region, so the instrument must be intrinsically stable to deliver the desired radial velocity precision. This means that the optical setup must be fixed and that the entire instrument must be in a vacuum tank and in a temperature stabilized enclosure. The instrument must also be fiber-fed to maintain illumination stability. A resolving power of approximately 80,000 is necessary. A similar setup can not be realized by making straightforward modifications to existing instruments - a new instrument must be built to achieve the radial velocity precision goal for the target stars.

Fiber optic test station in the lab