NIST Light-Sensing Camera Is Capable Of Finding Extraterrestrial Life, Dark matter

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The ever-evolving space technology has come a long way over time. The latest work comes from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Researchers from NIST have developed one of the highest-performing cameras that will be applied for future space missions to search for chemical signs of life on other planets.

NIST Light-Sensing Camera Can Find Extraterrestrial Life

 

NIST Camera Applications

The new camera has more than a thousand sensors that can capture even a single photon or the particles of light, say the research team. The powerful camera can be used on telescopes when astronauts set out on space missions to discover extraterrestrial life. The camera can also be used to search for the elusive 'dark matter', which scientists believe to make up the universe.

The NIST camera has sensors that are made from superconducting nanowires capable of detecting a single photon. The nanowires pack the lowest dark count rates that are seen in any type of photon sensor. This means that the sensors don't pick up false signals caused by external noise. The feature is especially usefully in search of dark matter, a major application of the NIST camera.

NIST Camera Features

The NIST camera is squarish in size and measures 1.6mm on the sides. There are precisely 1,024 sensors placed 32 columns by 32 rows to capture high-resolution images. One of the challenges the camera needs to overcome is obtaining results from all these sensors without overheating. The detectors are fabricated on silicon wafers formed into chips.

The nanowires on the NIST cameras are designed with an alloy of tungsten and silicon, which measures about 3.5mm long, 180 nanometers wide, and 3nm thick. The wiring is made of superconducting niobium. The NIST team of researchers has received a small amount of funding from NASA to solve certain issues with the camera.

 

NIST electronics engineer Varun Verma said: "My primary motivation for making the camera is NASA's Origins Space Telescope project, which is looking into using these arrays for analyzing the chemical composition of planets orbiting stars outside of our solar system."

So far, the research team has achieved high fabrication success, with 99.5% of the sensors working properly. Verma and his colleagues also hope to develop even larger cameras by increasing the number of sensors with probably a million sensors!

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