CUDOS scientists developed new telescope chip to help find alien planets


CUDOS PhD student Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith and his colleagues at ANU have assembled a chip-based interferometer that enables astronomers to reveal Earth-like planets that could harbour life.

telescope chip

The new telescope chip (credit: Stuary Hay, ANU)

Seeing a planet outside the solar system which is close to its host sun, similar to Earth, is very difficult with today's standard astronomical instruments due to the brightness of the sun.

In collaboration with physicists and astronomers at the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), the CUDOS team around PhD student Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith built a new telescope chip that removes light from the host sun. CUDOS Chief Investigator Steve Madden said the new chip allows astronomers for the first time to take a clear image of the planet.

The optical chip works in a similar way to noise cancelling headphones. The chip uses photonics – like electronics, but using light – to cause the light from the star to cancel itself out, highlighting the tiny signature of orbiting planets.

Unlike conventional interferometers, the chip is flat so it does not wobble, made of special glass so it does not absorb the light it is supposed to collect, and light enough to be put into orbit cheaply.

PhD student Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith, who built the chip at the ANU Laser Physics Centre, said the technology works like thermal imaging that fire fighters rely on to see through smoke.

"The chip uses the heat emitted from the planet to peer through dust clouds and see planets forming. Ultimately the same technology will allow us to detect ozone on alien planets that could support life," said Kenchington Goldsmith.

Source: Australian National University