New laser may boost search for Earth-like planets by hundred fold

May 7th, 2008 - 1:23 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 7 (ANI): Scientists have developed an ultrafast laser that may boost the search for Earth-like planets by hundred fold.

The laser was built by Albrecht Bartels at the Center for Applied Photonics of the University of Konstanz in Germany.

According to a report in ENN (Environmental News Network), scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) demonstrated the laser recently.

The new laser offers a record combination of high speed, short pulses and high average power.

The dime-sized laser, 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 NIST group has shown that this type of laser, when used as a frequency comban ultraprecise technique for measuring different colors of lightcould boost the sensitivity of astronomical tools searching for other Earthlike planets as much as hundred fold.

The new laser is also 100 to 1000 times more powerful than typical high-speed lasers, producing clearer signals in experiments.

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 stars motion as the orbiting planet tugs it back and forth, producing minute shifts in the apparent color (frequency) of the starlight.

Though frequency combs are accurate calibration tools, helping to pinpoint even smaller variations in starlight caused by tiny Earth-like planets, standard models have teeth that are too finely spaced for astronomical instruments to read.

Now, 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.

According to NIST physicist Scott Diddams, the filtering approach of the new laser 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).

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. (ANI)

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