Instrument scientist Pieter de Visser of Space Research Institute Sron, has been given 250,000 euros for the development of a new type of spectrometer with ultra-sensitive detectors. This can be searched for the building blocks for life on exoplanets.
The spectrometer that has to be developed by the Dutch scientist Pieter de Visser must be so sensitive that it is able to detect each individual light particle from the very weak light waves that come from earthy exoplanets. In addition, each particle must be determined by energy quantity.
By measuring the energy of such a photon, a spectrum of the atmosphere of the exoplanet examined can be made. If there are building blocks for life or actual life on the planet, their molecular properties will be out of such a spectrum. The exhibition of 250,000 euros comes from the Dutch organization for scientific research.
De Visser works on the development of superconducting detectors that hardly show noise during the measurements. It is the first time that a spectrometer is developed with such ultra-sensitive detectors for visible light. It is specifically about an Integral Field Spectrograph, Which is in fact a very sensitive camera that can make color photos without the need for optical components that could scatter the incoming light.
Because the detection and spectroscopy are combined in the design, there is little signal loss and the design does not have to be too complex. With spectrometers, the different wavelengths of light can be mapped, whereby it can be determined which minerals are present at the place where the light comes from.
Doing research on exoplanets, planets that are staring around other than our sun is certainly not easy. Planets do not radiate light themselves and can only reflect light from the nearby star. The shine of an average star where an exoplanet is turning around is 10 billion times as bright as the light from the planet.
Moreover, the planets are sometimes so close to their star that they can easily be over blasted, what makes it not easy for telescopes to detect them. The most successful way to discover an exoplanet is the transition method, whereby the brightness of a star is mapped.
The moment an exoplanet passes along the star, there is a small dip in the brightness of the star. So far, more than 3600 exoplanets have been discovered. Part of it is in the habitable zone of a star, which has the chance that life on these planets is possible, slightly increases.
This all is exciting news for the industry that applies spectrometers. Whatever the outcome may be, whether life forms will be detected or not, the industry will surely benefit from the advanced technologies that will be discovered during the process.