Applied Physics

Astronomy Through a Fine-Tooth Comb

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Science  13 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6091, pp. 134
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6091.134-b

The observation of distant astrophysical events with the high precision afforded by large Earth- and space-based instruments continues to expand our knowledge of the universe. Untangling the mechanisms at play typically requires analyzing spectra, with the dynamical processes inferred from shifts in wavelengths of known emission lines. For example, recent work has focused on the identification of planets orbiting distant stars, their presence determined by periodic and minute spectral lines shifts in the emission lines from their host star. These measurements require ever more precise and stable wavelength calibration of the astrophysical spectrographs. Phillips et al. demonstrate that laser-generated optical combs—broadband series of equally and precisely spaced wavelengths—can be used as an accurate and stable source to calibrate the spectrographs. The ability to tune and expand the extent of available wavelengths in the comb should provide the sensitivity to search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars, as well as to test other exotic astrophysical processes.

Opt. Express 20, 13711 (2012).

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