London: Scottish scientists are developing a new kind of laser that could help astronomers to find small Earth-like planets outside our solar system.
The team at Heriot-Watt University is working as part of an international consortium that secured 2 million to develop optical parametric oscillator (OPO) frequency comb lasers which will deliver a far greater degree of accuracy than has been previously possible.
Known as a `frequency comb`, because its output in frequency can be thought of as a pattern of closely spaced comb teeth, the new laser operates in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum which conventional frequency-comb lasers cannot, making it particularly useful for applications such as infrared gas sensing, metrology and spectroscopy, the university said in a statement.
OPO lasers offer enormous opportunities for exploitation in metrology (measurement) and broad spectrum detection, in instruments ranging from telescopes to hyperspectral imagers.
Now the Heriot-Watt team, which invented the femtosecond OPO comb technology at the core of the international Metrocomb project, will work with colleagues in other universities to explore new ways of making OPO frequency comb lasers operate in a more versatile, more reliable and user-friendly way.
One application for the new laser will be in astronomy and the hunt for planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.
While larger planets can now be detected and measured quite easily with precision spectrographs, astronomers looking for smaller `Earth-like` stars need more sensitive techniques which the new laser will facilitate.