Association News

NIST and CU to build planet-finding laser instrument.

Press Release Summary:

Nov 10, 2009 - NIST and University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) will collaborate to build frequency comb laser-based instrument to help search for extrasolar Earth-like planets. Comb will have individual frequencies widely spaced enough for astronomical instruments to read. It will enable detection of planets that cause color shifts equivalent to star wobble of few centimeters/sec. National Science Foundation has awarded CU $495,000 grant for joint project.

National Institute of Standards & Technology - Gaithersburg, MD

Original Press Release

NIST, CU to Build Instrument to Help Search for Earth-Like Planets

Press release date: Nov 03, 2009

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will collaborate with the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) to build and apply a custom laser-based instrument-a frequency comb-to help search for extrasolar Earth-like planets. The National Science Foundation has awarded CU a $495,000 grant for the joint project.

Frequency combs are tools for precisely measuring different frequencies of light. NIST physicist Scott Diddams, together with CU astronomer Steve Osterman and other colleagues, will design and build an unusual comb with "teeth" (individual frequencies) that are widely spaced enough for astronomical instruments to read. The new comb will be used to calibrate measurements of subtle changes in infrared starlight caused by a star wobbling from the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet. Frequency combs could be such superior calibration tools that they would make it possible to detect even tiny Earthlike planets that cause color shifts equivalent to a star wobble of just a few centimeters per second. Current astronomical instruments can detect-at best-a wobble of about 1 meter per second.

The Boulder researchers plan to take the new laser instrument to the Apache Point Observatory northeast of Las Cruces, N.M., in the spring of 2010 to integrate it with a new planet-finding experiment. For more, see the CU news release "Nobel Prize-Winning Science From Boulder Serves as Springboard for Planet Hunting."