A key recommendation that emerged from Starshade Science and Industry Partnership (SIP) meetings and discussions is to produce a flow down of requirements from science to key performance parameters based on synthetic images via a data challenge. Responding to the community recommendation, the Starshade Technology Development Activity to TRL5 (S5) is now developing and conducting a Starshade Exoplanet Data Challenge.

Example synthetic images of starshade-assisted imaging of a hypothetical solar system at 10 parsec.
Example synthetic images of starshade-assisted imaging of a hypothetical solar system at 10 parsec.

The Starshade Exoplanet Data Challenge seeks to quantify the required accuracy of noisy background calibration to detect planets and exozodiacal disks and extract their spectra from synthetic images. The synthetic images simultaneously include multiple sources of background and noise including residual starlight, solar glint, other stray light sources, exozodiacal light, detector noise, as well as variability resulting from starshade's motion in formation flight and telescope's jitter. Many of these terms are specific to starshade observations, and the interplay of these terms of background and noise can be revealed and evaluated with the analyses on synthetic images.

The images will be generated with the Starshade Imaging Simulation Toolkit for Exoplanet Reconnaissance (SISTER), which takes into account the full 2-dimensional nature of the astrophysical scene and the spatial variation of the Point Spread Function (PSF) due to the optical diffraction from the starshade. Astrophysical and observational scenarios will be selected to represent key science objectives of the well-studied starshade mission concepts including Roman Starshade Rendezvous and HabEx.

Two participating teams have been selected from submitted responses to a JPL Request for Proposals (RFP). The participating teams are tasked to develop image-processing algorithms to test the ability to retrieve faint exoplanet signals from the synthetic images and quantify the precision needed for background calibration. With the simulated images of slit-prism spectroscopy for Roman and the data cubes of integral field spectroscopy for HabEx, the algorithm could also attempt to extract the planets’ spectra. Results from the analyses will help determine the detection limit of planets vis-a-vis instrument parameters and indicate how well image processing can subtract the background to the photon-noise limit.

Starshade Data Challenge structure workflow
Overall structure and workflow of the Starshade Exoplanet Data Challenge

The Starshade Exoplanet Data Challenge is open to the general astronomy and exoplanet community. All synthetic images will be made public through this web page, along with the documentation helpful for image processing and analysis. Announcements of future data releases and meetings will be made through the Starshade SIP mailing list (subscription information in the sidebar). We invite members of the general astronomy and exoplanet community to inspect, process, or analyze the synthetic images and participate in maturing the starshade technology for exoplanet imaging and characterization.

Questions should be directed to Dr. Renyu Hu (renyu.hu@jpl.nasa.gov), Starshade Scientist of the Exoplanet Exploration Program.

Starshade Exoplanet Data Challenge Reference Documentation

Data Release #1