The hunt for Earth-like planets around distant stars could soon become a lot easier thanks to a technique developed by researchers in Germany.
In a paper published today, 18 February, in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, the team of researchers have successfully demonstrated how a solar telescope can be combined with a piece of technology that has already taken the physics world by storm—the laser frequency comb (LFC).
It is expected the technique will allow a spectral analysis of distant stars with unprecedented accuracy, as well as advance research in other areas of astrophysics, such as detailed observations of the Sun and the measurement of the accelerating universe by observing distant quasars.
The LFC is a tool for measuring the colour — or frequency — of light, and has been responsible for generating some of the most precise measurements ever made. An LFC is created by a laser that emits continuous pulses of light, containing millions of different colours, often spanning almost the entire visible spectrum.
When the different colours are separated based on their individual frequencies — the speed with which that particular light wave oscillates — they form a “comb-like” graph with finely spaced lines, or “teeth”, representing the individual frequencies.
This “comb” can then be used as a “ruler” to precisely measure the frequency of light from a wide range of sources, such as lasers, atoms or stars.
In their study, the researchers, from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics and the University Observatory Munich, performed an analysis on the Sun by combining sunlight from the Kiepenheuer Institute’s solar telescope in Tenerife with the light of an LFC. Both sources of light were injected into a single optical fibre which then delivered the light to a spectrograph for analysis.
Lead author of the study Rafael Probst, of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, said: “An important aspect of our work is that we use a single-mode fibre, which takes advantage of the wave nature of light to enable a very clean and stable beam at its output. This type of fibre is quite common in telecom and laser applications, but its applications in astronomy are still largely unexplored. The LFC at the solar telescope on Tenerife is the first installation for astronomical use based on single-mode fibres.
“Our results show that if the LFC light and the sunlight are simultaneously fed through the same single-mode fibre, the obtained calibration precision improves by about a factor of 100 over a temporally separated fibre transmission.
“We then obtain a calibration precision that keeps up with the best calibration precision ever obtained on an astrophysical spectrograph, and we even see considerable potential for further improvement.”
Indeed, the researchers envisage using the new technique to not only study the star at the centre of our solar system, but stars much further away from us, particularly to find Earth-like planets that may be orbiting around them.
When a planet orbits a star, the star does not stay completely stationary, but instead moves in a very small circle or ellipse. When viewed from a distance, these slight changes in speed cause the star’s light spectrum to change a process known as a Doppler shift.
If the star is moving towards the observer, then its spectrum would appear slightly shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum; if it is moving away, it will be shifted towards the red end of the spectrum.
The researchers believe that an LFC would allow them to measure these Doppler shifts much more accurately and therefore increase the chances of spotting Earth-sized, habitable planets.
With conventional calibration techniques, the researchers state that they could measure a change in speed of roughly 1 m/s over large time periods; an LFC could enable measurements with an accuracy of 1 cm/s.
“In astronomy, LFCs are still a novelty and non-standard equipment at observatories. This however, is about to change, and LFC-assisted spectroscopy is envisioned to have a flourishing future in astronomy. Our present work shows how future astronomical LFCs could be utilized,” Probst concludes.
The work is a collaboration comprising the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics in Freiburg, Germany, and the University Observatory Munich in Munich, Germany. Among the contributors are guest scientists from the National Astronomical Observatories of China in Beijing. Menlo Systems GmbH in Martinsried, Germany, is part of the collaboration as an industrial partner.
[IOP Publishing press release]
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Str. 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 - 509
Dr. Ronald Holzwarth
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Str. 1, 85748 Garching, Germnay
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 - 255
Prof. Dr. Theodor W. Hänsch
Professor of Experimental Physics,
Director at Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)89 / 32 905 - 712
http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/17/2/023048 (Link to paper download)
Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie
Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy