A major part of finding extraterrestrial life is to be able to profile the atmosphere of any planets outside of our solar system. This is not an easy task, as these planets are usually found through the slight darkening of their star as they pass in front of it (transition). Although spectroscopy is the ideal way to profile the chemical composure of such a planet, having a massive, extremely bright star right next to the planet is more than enough to completely overpower the faint light reflecting off the planet’s surface and through its atmosphere. This is a major issue that the upcoming Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx, also called the Habitable Worlds Observatory, or HWO) hopes to address using a range of technologies, including a coronagraph that should block out most of the stellar glare.
While this solves much of the issue, there are still a range of issues which the new field of astrophotonics seeks to address, as detailed in a recent paper by Nemanja Jovanovic and colleagues. This involves not only profiling chemical compositions, but also increasing the precision when monitoring for planet transit events using e.g. semiconductors-based laser frequency combs. These are generally combined with a spectral flattener, which in experimental on-chip form are significantly less bulky than previous setups, to the point where they don’t necessarily have to be Earth-based.
Continue reading “The Path To Profiling Extraterrestrial Atmospheres With Astrophotonics”
Sad news in the tech world this week as Intel co-founder Gordon Moore passed away in Hawaii at the age of 94. Along with Robert Noyce in 1968, Moore founded NM Electronics, the company that would later go on to become Intel Corporation and give the world the first commercially available microprocessor, the 4004, in 1971. The four-bit microprocessor would be joined a few years later by the 8008 and 8080, chips that paved the way for the PC revolution to come. Surprisingly, Moore was not an electrical engineer but a chemist, earning his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1954 before his postdoctoral research at the prestigious Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins. He briefly worked alongside Nobel laureate and transistor co-inventor William Shockley before jumping ship with Noyce and others to found Fairchild Semiconductor, which is where he made the observation that integrated circuit component density doubled roughly every two years. This calculation would go on to be known as “Moore’s Law.”
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: March 26, 2023”
We get results! Well, sort of. You may recall that in this space last week we discussed Ford’s plans to exclude AM reception on the infotainment systems of certain of their cars starting in 2024. We decried the decision, not for the loss of the sweet, sweet content that AM stations tend to carry — although we always enjoyed “Traffic on the 8s” back in our dismal days of daily commuting — but rather as a safety concern, because AM radio can reach almost the entire US population with emergency information using just 75 stations. To our way of thinking, this makes AM radio critical infrastructure, and eliminating it from motor vehicles is likely to have unintended consequences. Now it seems like there’s some agreement with that position, as former administrators of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration; and no, not FEDRA) have gotten together to warn about the dangers of deleting AM from cars. Manufacturers seem to be leaning into the excuse that EVs emit a lot of radio frequency interference, rendering static-sensitive AM receivers less useful than other,
more profitable less susceptible modes, like digital satellite radio. That seems like a red herring to us, but then again, the most advanced infotainment option in any car we’ve ever owned is a CD player, so it’s hard for us to judge.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: March 19, 2023”
It’s probably safe to say that most of us have had enough of the Great Balloon Follies to last the rest of 2023 and well beyond. It’s been a week or two since anything untoward was spotted over the US and subsequently blasted into shrapnel, at least that we know of, so we can probably put this whole thing behind us.
But as a parting gift, we present what has to be the best selfie of the year — a photo by the pilot of a U-2 spy plane of the balloon that started it all. Assuming no manipulation or trickery, the photo is remarkable; not only does it capture the U-2 pilot doing a high-altitude flyby of the balloon, but it shows the shadow cast by the spy plane on the surface of the balloon.
The photo also illustrates the enormity of this thing; someone with better math skills than us could probably figure out the exact size of the balloon from the apparent size of the U-2 shadow, in fact.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 26, 2023”
As far as interesting problems go, few can really compete with the perennial question: “Are we alone?” The need to know if there are other forms of intelligent life out there in the galaxy is deeply rooted, and knowing for sure either way would have massive implications.
But it’s a big galaxy, and knowing where to look for signals that might mean we’re not alone is a tough task. Devoting limited and expensive resources to randomly listen to chunks of the sky in the hopes of hearing something that’s obviously made by a technical civilization is unlikely to bear fruit. Much better would be to have something to base sensible observations on — some kind of target that has a better chance of paying off.
Luckily, a chance observation nearly 50 years ago has provided just that. The so-called Wow! Signal, much discussed but only occasionally and somewhat informally studied, has provided a guidepost in the sky, thanks in part to a citizen scientist with a passion for finding exoplanets.
Have you ever wished we could peek at all these exoplanets that have been recently discovered? We aren’t likely to visit anytime soon, but it would be possible to build a truly giant telescope that could take a look at something like that. At least according to [SciShow Space] in a recent video you can see below.
The idea put forth in a recent scientific paper is to deliberately create the conditions that naturally form gravitational lenses. If you recall, scientists have used these naturally-occurring lenses to image the oldest star ever observed. These natural super-telescopes have paid off many times, but you can’t pick what you want to look at. It is all a function of the distance to the star creating the lens and the direction a line between us points.
But what if you could create your own gravity lens? Granted, we probably aren’t going to do that in our garages. However, a recent paper talks about launching an optical detector that you could maneuver so that it was on a line that would pass through the object you want to see and our own sun. We clearly have the technology to do this. After all, we have several nice space telescopes, and several probes operating far away from the sun.
That is one of the biggest catches, though. This new telescope will need to be some 550 AU from the sun to get good results. For the record, the Earth is 1 AU (about 8 light minutes) out. Pluto — maybe not a planet anymore, but still a signpost on the way out of the solar system — is a scant 39 AU out. Voyager I, which has been racing away from the sun since 1977 is only about 156 AU out.
Because the craft would be so far out, it would be practically a one-shot mission. You also have to have something reliable enough to go the 17 years it would take with today’s technology to get in place. You also need a way to get the data back over that distance. All doable, but non-trivial.
The paper simulates what the Earth would look like using this technique from a nearby star. The images are shockingly good, especially after a bit of post-processing. Meanwhile, we may have to settle for more modest images. You might not see detail, but it is possible to find exoplanets with reasonably modest equipment.
Continue reading “Truly Giant Telescope Could Image Exoplanets”
Remember DSRC? If the initialism doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry — Dedicated Short-Range Communications, a radio service intended to let cars in traffic talk to each other, never really caught on. Back in 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9-GHz band, it probably seemed like a good idea — after all, the flying cars of the future would surely need a way to communicate with each other. Only about 15,000 vehicles in the US have DSRC, and so the FCC decided to snatch back the whole 75-MHz slice and reallocate it. The lower 45 MHz will be tacked onto the existing unlicensed 5.8-GHz band where WiFi now lives, providing interesting opportunities in wireless networking. Fans of chatty cars need not fret, though — the upper 30 MHz block is being reallocated to a different Intelligent Transportation System Service called C-V2X, for Cellular Vehicle to Everything, which by its name alone is far cooler and therefore more likely to succeed.
NASA keeps dropping cool teasers of the Mars 2020 mission as the package containing the Perseverance rover hurtles across space on its way to a February rendezvous with the Red Planet. The latest: you can listen to the faint sounds the rover is making as it gets ready for its date with destiny. While we’ve heard sounds from Mars before — the InSight lander used its seismometer to record the Martian wind — Perseverance is the first Mars rover equipped with actual microphones. It’s pretty neat to hear the faint whirring of the rover’s thermal management system pump doing its thing in interplanetary space, and even cooler to think that we’ll soon hear what it sounds like to land on Mars.
Speaking of space, back at the beginning of 2020 — you know, a couple of million years ago — we kicked off the Hack Chat series by talking with Alberto Caballero about his “Habitable Exoplanets” project, a crowd-sourced search for “Earth 2.0”. We found it fascinating that amateur astronomers using off-the-shelf gear could detect the subtle signs of planets orbiting stars half a galaxy away. We’ve kept in touch with Alberto since then, and he recently tipped us off to his new SETI Project. Following the citizen-science model of the Habitable Exoplanets project, Alberto is looking to recruit amateur radio astronomers willing to turn their antennas in the direction of stars similar to the Sun, where it just might be possible for intelligent life to have formed. Check out the PDF summary of the project which includes the modest technical requirements for getting in on the SETI action.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: November 22, 2020”