Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Colloquium

Monday, April 17, 2023 at 12:15-1:15PM

JILA Auditorium

Jake Connors, NIST

" From Earth to Exoplanets: Building the next generation of Far-Infrared Spectrometers"

A Pretty Image from the Talk


The Far-Infrared (FIR), roughly defined as 30 to 300μm, plays host to a diverse array of atomic and molecular transition lines that will provide information about the heating and cooling processes in the interstellar medium, the state and evolution of planet-forming disks, the origins of water in planetary systems, the rise of metals in early galaxies and the atmospheric composition of exoplanets or brown dwarfs. Astrophysical processes that may be otherwise obscured by dust are visible in the FIR, giving astronomers insights into star formation and early stellar evolution. The same molecular transitions that make FIR spectroscopy so attractive to astronomers, however, also render Earth's atmosphere largely opaque at these wavelengths, thus requiring observations in the FIR to be done from space.

At the same time, the FIR lives within a technological gap in our ability to detect and generate photons. By borrowing techniques from microwave filter design, I am working to creating phononic (instead of electronic) filters to define the thermal circuit of transition edge sensor bolometers, tailoring their thermal response to meet the stringent noise requirements of FIR spectroscopy. Conventional spectrometer designs fundamentally trade instrument size and spectral resolution, leaving high-resolution FIR spectrometers far too large for space. A second thrust of my work is to adapt to the FIR a novel compact dispersive element, the virtually imaged phased array (VIPA), which would make possible a compact sensitive spectrometer. In parallel, I am working towards the application of FIR VIPAs for observations of Earth’s own atmosphere, where high-resolution FIR spectroscopy could directly probe the distribution of water vapor and measure the spatially dependent D-H ratio or abundances of other atmospheric constituents. Forward looking, these technologies will need to be qualified for space, for which a dedicated sounding rocket program could provide both tantalizing initial data and belief that such an instrument could survive the rigors of launch and spaceflight. If successful, this work would provide the technological basis for a future FIR space mission capable of revolutionizing the understanding of our cosmic origins


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