MIRI Coronagraphs

MIRI offers coronagraphic imaging with 4 individual coronagraphs, located with the LRS slit on a mounting bracket placed at the first focal plane. One of the coronagraphs is based on the classical Lyot design, while the other 3 incorporate 4-quadrant phase masks (4QPMs). (Please refer to the JWST High-Contrast Imaging article for additional information about high-contrast imaging (HCI) optics.)

The classical Lyot coronagraph places an occulting spot in the first instrumental focal plane to block light from a bright point source from reaching the detector. For a typical Lyot coronagraph, this spot is of order 3–6 λ/D in radius so that it blocks the majority of the light from the Airy core, including a few bright rings. Although classical Lyot coronagraphs can provide excellent contrast outside the area blocked by the occulting spot, they are limited with regard to their inner-working angle (IWA) to the projected radius of this spot.

Four quadrant phase mask coronagraphs are designed to decrease the IWA to near 1 λ/D by replacing the occulting spot with a transparent optical element that imparts phase differences across the focal plane so that when the re-imaged pupil is formed, the light interferes more destructively, hence rejecting the starlight outside the geometrical pupil. The theory of 4QPMs was developed as described in Rouan et al. (2000) and Rouan et al. (2007).

In addition to the focal plane optical elements, Lyot stops sandwiched with the passband filters are located at a re-imaged pupil to attenuate the residual light from the diffraction pattern associated with the telescope aperture and a particular coronagraph design, and from phase and amplitude aberrations of the wavefront in the optical train.

A preflight description of the coronagraphs and their predicted performance can be found in Boccaletti. et al. (2015). A summary of the post-commissioning results can be found in Boccaletti et al. (2022).

Lyot coronagraph

The Lyot coronagraph is a traditional design that incorporates a Lyot spot mask of radius of 2.16", which is 3.3 λ/D in radius at 23 µm. The spot is suspended in the first focal plane by 2 supporting struts in the mounting bracket, which themselves block light in the FOV. MIRI's Lyot coronagraph is offered at 23 μm for two reasons: (1) a lack of suitable transmissive optical materials to fabricate more advanced 4QPM masks at these wavelengths, and (2) to provide a broad spectral band to maximize the sensitivity on planetary debris disks (4QPMs only operate over a narrow passband). The Lyot mask is useful for investigating objects, structures and diffuse emission near bright sources such as the outer regions of protoplanetary and debris disks, extended structures around post-AGB stars, and the host galaxies and scattering/ionization “cones” of AGN.

Figure 1. Optical path for a typical Lyot coronagraph

Click on the figure for a larger view.

© Oppenheimer & Hinkley 2009

4-quadrant phase mask (4QPMs) coronagraphs 

Lyot coronagraphs provide excellent contrast outside the occulter, but their IWA is limited to the projected radius of this occulter (≥3λ/D). Phase mask coronagraphs reduce the IWA to near 1 λ/D by replacing the occulting spot with a transparent optical element that imparts phase differences throughout the focal plane so that the light interferes destructively for a point source placed at the apex of the four quadrants. The 4QPMs are useful for investigating objects, structures and diffuse emission very close to bright point sources, such as the inner regions of debris disks and exoplanets orbiting close to a star, very tight binary star systems, and the near-nuclear environments of AGN. 

While there are several implementations of phase mask coronagraphs, 4QPMs have been chosen for MIRI (Rouan et al. 2000, 2007). 4QPMs work by introducing a 180° phase shift of the light transmitted through 2 of the quadrants on the diagonal. This cancels the signal from the central point source via destructive interference of light that lands equally in the 4 quadrants. The disadvantage of a 4QPM is that it only operates over a narrow wavelength range. Therefore, maximum cancellation takes effect only when the appropriate filter (and Lyot stop) is in position. Furthermore, the linear boundaries between adjacent quadrants will attenuate light. Therefore, the 4QPM has reduced sensitivity (as low as 10%) in the field along the 4 edges of the mask.

Figure 2. Optical path for the 4QPM coronagraph

Optical path for the 4QPM coronagraph

© Boccaletti et al. 2015


Boccaletti, A. et al. 2022, A&A, in press
JWST/MIRI coronagraphic performances as measured on-sky

Boccaletti, A. et al. 2015, PASP, 127, 633
The Mid-Infrared Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, V: Predicted Performance of the MIRI Coronagraphs

Oppenheimer & Hinkley, 2009,  ARA&A, 47, 253
High-Contrast Observations in Optical and Infrared Astronomy

Rouan, D. et al. 2000, PASP, 112, 1479
The Four-Quadrant Phase-Mask Coronagraph. I. Principle 

Rouan, D. et al. 2007, Proc. of SPIE, 6693, 16
A new concept of achromatic phase shifter for nulling interferometry

Notable updates
    Updated references to include post-commissioning performance reference
Originally published