Scottish University breakthrough could bring stars and planets into focus

29/03/2024

PHYSICISTS at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Cambridge have unveiled a groundbreaking tool that promises to revolutionize our understanding of starlight and the universe itself.

Dubbed an “astrocomb,” this innovative laser system could significantly enhance astronomers’ ability to detect hidden planets and refine measurements of the universe’s expansion rate.

Dr. Samantha Thompson of the University of Cambridge explains the significance: “This new astrocomb will enable astronomers to accurately study the spectrum of light from nearby stars in the hunt for Earth-like planets.”

The breakthrough lies in the astrocomb’s ability to provide precise calibration of starlight, particularly in the blue-green part of the spectrum, where crucial information about exoplanets is found.

Professor Derryck Reid from Heriot-Watt University elaborates: “Astrocombs allow astronomers to make extremely sensitive wavelength measurements… Our new approach provides a continuous sequence of optical markers, offering a precision wavelength scale in this part of the spectrum.”

The team’s achievement in cracking the ultraviolet to blue-green spectrum opens new avenues for astronomers, with applications ranging from the study of exoplanets to enhancing telescopic observations.

“This is the first astrocomb with continuous coverage from the ultraviolet to the blue-green spectrum,” says Professor Reid, likening their device’s impact to a rock amplifier, but for starlight.

Their work holds promise for advancing astronomical research, with applications already in development for use in leading telescopes worldwide.

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