Research NewsAstronomy

All-in-One Detectors for the Faintest Objects

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Science  04 Oct 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5284, pp. 36-38
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5284.36


By separating two thin layers of superconductor with an insulating barrier, scientists at the European Space Agency have created an optical detector that can detect a signal as faint as a single photon and determine its wavelength. That combination of abilities is far beyond current astronomical detectors, and laboratories are now vying to fabricate large arrays of these devices, called superconducting tunnel junctions (STJs), which could capture complete images. If these efforts succeed--cooling the devices and taming their electronic noise may be stumbling blocks--STJs could revolutionize the search for faint galaxies, planets around other stars, and pulsars.