Researchers demonstrated a new simple laser system that could aid astronomers in the discovery of new Earth-like planets. The laser emits light at one billion pulses per second and comprises only three parts: two mirrors and a sapphire crystal with a trace of titanium.
The new source is powered by a green laser, which converts light into one-kilowatt infrared pulses like commercially available laser pointers. According to the researchers, the laser reduces the cost, complexity, and power consumption of typical ultrafast lasers by a factor of ten, making the technology more accessible to users in other scientific fields.
The new laser has enormous potential for detecting small, Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers have already identified thousands of stars that may have exoplanets using space telescopes. Still, each of these must be confirmed by ground-based telescopes looking for tiny fluctuations in the color of the star’s light, which are the signatures of an orbiting planet. These minute wavelength shifts confirm the presence of a planet in orbit and provide information about its mass and orbital period.
Because exoplanet observations can take years, astronomers have proposed having many dedicated telescopes pointing at candidate stars, and the new laser could become a core module in such systems.