Natural laser discovered in space

Oct. 1, 1995
Scientists on board NASA`s Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) recently discovered the first "natural" laser in space. The KAO was en route from Hawaii to its home base at Moffet Field when the laser was detected at a wavelength of 169 microns.

Scientists on board NASA`s Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) recently discovered the first "natural" laser in space. The KAO was en route from Hawaii to its home base at Moffet Field (Mountain View, CA) when the laser was detected at a wavelength of 169 µm. The scientists were viewing the nearly edge-on gas and dust disk surrounding a young and very hot luminous star in the constellation Cygnus, designated MWC 349, and were searching for selected lasing lines between 50 and 500 µm. Observations were made with the Ames Cryogenic Grating Spectrometera liquid-helium-cooled spectrometer attached to the KAO`s 36-in. reflecting telescope.

According to principal investigator Vladimir Strelnitski of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM, Washington, DC), who made the discovery, the lasing line has an intensity six times brighter than nonamplified spontaneous emissions at the same wavelength. The natural laser is created as intense UV light from the star pumps densely packed hydrogen atoms in the gaseous dusty disk surrounding the star. Then, when IR light shines on the excited hydrogen atoms, the atoms emit an intense beam of light at the same IR wavelength.

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