The same NIST group also has shown that this type of laser, when used as a frequency comb—an ultraprecise technique for measuring different colors of light—could boost the sensitivity of astronomical tools searching for other Earthlike planets as much as 100 fold.
The dime-sized laser, to be described Thursday, May 8, at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics,* emits 10 billion pulses per second, each lasting about 40 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second), with an average power of 650 milliwatts. For comparison, the new laser produces pulses 10 times more often than a standard NIST frequency comb while producing much shorter pulses than other lasers operating at comparable speeds. The new laser is also 100 to 1000 times more powerful than typical high-speed lasers, producing clearer signals in experiments. The laser was built by Albrecht Bartels at the Center for Applied Photonics of the University of Konstanz.
Among its applications, the new laser can be used in searches for planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers look for slight variations in the colors of starlight over time as clues to the presence of a planet orbiting the star. The variations are due to the small wobbles induced in the star’s motion as the orbiting planet tugs it back and forth, producing minute shifts in the apparent color (frequency) of the starlight. Currently, astronomers’ instruments are calibrated with frequency standards that are limited in spectral coverage and stability. Frequency combs could be more accurate calibration tools, helping to pinpoint even smaller variations in starlight caused by tiny Earthlike planets. Such small planets would cause color shifts equivalent to a star wobble of just a few centimeters per second. Current instruments can detect, at best, a wobble of about 1 meter per second.
Standard frequency combs have “teeth” that are too finely spaced for astronomical instruments to read. The faster laser is one approach to solving this problem. In a separate paper,** the NIST group and astronomer Steve Osterman at the University of Colorado at Boulder describe how, by bouncing the light between sets of mirrors a particular distance apart, they can eliminate periodic blocks of teeth to create a gap-toothed comb. This leaves only every 10th or 20th tooth, making an ideal ruler for astronomy.
Both approaches have advantages for astronomical planet finding and related applications. The dime-sized laser is very simple in construction and produces powerful and extremely well-defined comb teeth. On the other hand, the filtering approach can cover a broader range of wavelengths. Four or five filtering cavities in parallel would provide a high-precision comb of about 25,000 evenly spaced teeth that spans the visible to near-infrared wavelengths (400 to 1100 nanometers), NIST physicist Scott Diddams says.
Osterman says he is pursuing the possibility of testing such a frequency comb at a ground-based telescope or launching a comb on a satellite or other space mission. Other possible applications of the new laser include remote sensing of gases for medical or atmospheric studies, and on-the-fly precision control of high-speed optical communications to provide greater versatility in data and time transmissions. The application of frequency combs to planet searches is of international interest and involves a number of major institutions such as the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Background on frequency combs and NIST’s role in their development can be found at: “Optical Frequency Combs” at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/newsfromnist_frequency_combs.htm.
* A. Bartels, D. Heinecke and S.A. Diddams. Passively mode-locked 10 GHz femtosecond Ti:sapphire laser with >1 mW of power per frequency comb mode. Post-deadline paper presented at Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO), San Jose, Calif., May 4-9, 2008.
** D.A. Braje, M. S. Kirchner, S. Osterman, T. Fortier and S. A. Diddams. Astronomical spectrograph calibration with broad-spectrum frequency combs. To appear in European Physics Journal D. (Posted online at arXiv:0803.0565)
Laura Ost | newswise
New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research