Scientists have developed a new optical chip for a telescope that enables astronomers to have a clear view of alien planets that may support life.
Seeing a planet outside the solar system which is close to its host sun, similar to Earth, is very difficult with today’s standard astronomical instruments due to the brightness of the sun.
Associate Professor Steve Madden from The Australian National University (ANU) said the new chip removes light from the host sun, allowing astronomers for the first time to take a clear image of the planet.
“The ultimate aim of our work with astronomers is to be able to find a planet like Earth that could support life,” said Dr Madden from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
“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.
Dr Madden said the optical chip worked in a similar way to noise cancelling headphones.
“This chip is an interferometer that adds equal but opposite light waves from a host sun which cancels out the light from the sun, allowing the much weaker planet light to be seen,” he said.
PhD student Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith, who built the chip at the ANU Laser Physics Centre, said the technology works like thermal imaging that fire fighters rely on to see through smoke.
“The chip uses the heat emitted from the planet to peer through dust clouds and see planets forming. Ultimately the same technology will allow us to detect ozone on alien planets that could support life,” said Mr Kenchington Goldsmith from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
Photonics advances allow us to be seen across the universe, with major implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin
Looking up at the night sky — expansive and seemingly endless, stars and constellations blinking and glimmering like jewels just out of reach — it’s impossible not to wonder: Are we alone?
For many of us, the notion of intelligent life on other planets is as captivating as ideas come. Maybe in some other star system, maybe a billion light years away, there’s a civilization like ours asking the exact same question.
Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same.
The technology now exists to enable exactly that scenario, according to UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin, whose new work applies his research and advances in directed-energy systems to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). His recent paper “The Search for Directed Intelligence” appears in the journal REACH – Reviews in Human Space Exploration.
“If even one other civilization existed in our galaxy and had a similar or more advanced level of directed-energy technology, we could detect ‘them’ anywhere in our galaxy with a very modest detection approach,” said Lubin, who leads the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group. “If we scale it up as we’re doing with direct energy systems, how far could we detect a civilization equivalent to ours? The answer becomes that the entire universe is now open to us.
“Similar to the use of directed energy for relativistic interstellar probes and planetary defense that we have been developing, take that same technology and ask yourself, ‘What are consequences of that technology in terms of us being detectable by another ‘us’ in some other part of the universe?’” Lubin added. “Could we see each other? Can we behave as a lighthouse, or a beacon, and project our presence to some other civilization somewhere else in the universe? The profound consequences are, of course, ‘Where are they?’ Perhaps they are shy like us and do not want to be seen, or they don’t transmit in a way we can detect, or perhaps ‘they’ do not exist.”