Researchers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering have developed an ultra-sensitive light-detecting system that could enable astronomers to view galaxies, stars and planetary systems in superb detail.
The system works at room temperature — an improvement over similar technology that only works in temperatures nearing 270 degrees below zero Celsius, or minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit. A paper detailing the advance is published today in Nature Astronomy. The sensor system detects radiation in the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes parts of the far-infrared and microwave frequencies.
The system produces images in ultra-high clarity, and it can detect terahertz waves across a broad spectral range — an improvement of at least 10 times more than current technologies that only detect such waves in a narrow spectral range. Its broad range capabilities could allow it to do observations that currently require several different instruments. It identifies what elements and molecules — for example, water, oxygen, carbon monoxide and other organic molecules, are present in those regions of space by seeing if their individual telltale spectral signatures are present.