New Tool to Reveal the Formation of Stars, Galaxies
The formation of planetary systems, of stars in galaxies, and how the first galaxies assembled—these topics provide a trove of mysteries still to be solved. But researchers’ path ahead may be cleared by a new tool for seeing and detecting. Gordon J. Stacey, Astronomy, in collaboration with visiting scientist German Cortes-Medellin, will design and construct silicon-substrate-based (SSB) mirrors for high-performance Fabry-Perot interferometers (FPI), instruments that specialize in controlling and measuring wavelengths of light.
The mirrors will be made from thin silicon wafers that are rendered anti-reflection with a dielectric meta-material on one side and gold metalized patterns on the other. Stacey will then place two of the mirrors with the metalized surfaces facing one-another to form the FPI cavity, or the FPI etalon, where light comes in and measurements take place.
The new SSB mirrors and the improved FPI will impact a number of lines of investigation. With ground-based, airborne, and space-based telescopes, researchers will be able to detect key ingredients of habitable worlds, such as water vapor, water ice, and oxygen as they are assembled around a newly formed star. The FPI will make possible direct images of star formation in nearby galaxies and reveal the properties of newly formed stars themselves. It will also advance imaging of the “cosmic web” at the time the first stars and galaxies formed.