Mid-IR integrated optical nulling chip developed at ANU will clear the way to see proto-exoplanets

Dec. 7, 2016
Nulling interferometry will cancel the light from the central star, leaving surrounding dust clouds in view.

Stephen Madden and other researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (Canberra, Australia) have developed a mid-IR (3 to 4.5 μm wavelength region) integrated optical chip for astronomical telescopes that will help astronomers look through dust clouds around stars to find protoplanets and planets that may support life.

The chip uses nulling interferometry to cancel the light from the central star, allowing the surrounding dust clouds to be seen. Optical contrast and penetration through the dust is maximized by using the mid-IR region rather than the visible region. Because the interferometric nulling optics are integrated on a chip, the device is very mechanically stable.

"The ultimate aim of our work with astronomers is to be able to find a planet like Earth that could support life," says Madden. "To do this we need to understand how and where planets form inside dust clouds, and then use this experience to search for planets with an atmosphere containing ozone, which is a strong indicator of life."

Physicists and astronomers at ANU worked on the optical chip with researchers at the University of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory. The researchers aim to take their first mid-IR images at the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Sources:

http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/new-telescope-chip-offers-clear-view-of-alien-planets

https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/madden-sj

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