Skip to main content

Not just about star-gazing: Astronomy changes our lives


This image of the Small Magellanic Cloud located 163,000 light-years from Earth, was rendered from data acquired by Ryan Hannahoe and processed by Robert Gendler, from equipment at the Fair Dinkum Skies Observatory in Australia -- an example of both the dazzling images we now have from space and the collaboration that characterizes space exploration and astronomy.

Through the capabilities of optics and photonics, astronomical telescopes and instrumentation systems have vastly increased humankind’s knowledge about the physical composition and history of the universe -- including our own planet and its natural phenomena.

And, again thanks to optics and photonics, these mind-bending data and dazzling images are not the purview of only astronomers and physicists. Images in particular -- arriving at Earth, as Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter observed in a recent talk, on light that left its origin in the cosmos in some cases before our solar system was formed-- are rendered on desktops and television screens everywhere, bringing the furthest reaches of space into homes, classrooms and offices.

Of course, new information prompts new questions.

Theorists such as Stephen Hawking pondering a Theory of Everything to explain some of those unanswered questions look for clues in the results of past and present missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Besides scientific knowledge, there are other very significant results of space exploration.

International missions bring nations together via collaboration. The LHC, James Webb Space Telescope and Extremely Large Telescope project are examples of major endeavors that align multiple countries and regions who otherwise compete in a number of ways. 

And spin-off technologies transferred from astronomical missions and space travel abound in our everyday lives.

For example, optical systems designers Roger Angel (University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences) has recently turned his attention from space telescopes to efficient solar-energy systems -- using technology originally built for studying planets to directly improve the green-energy options for people on our planet.

A long list of products and innovations ranging from invisible braces and scratch-resistant eyeglass coatings, to digital cameras and medical imaging technologies, to satellite communications systems, the internet, and many more have been derived from inventions patented by NASA, the European Space Agency, and other agencies and organizations as a result of space exploration.

What’s next?

Leading astronomical instrumentation researchers and developers will meet in Amsterdam next month and reveal future directions for projects now in play and in planning. You can get an idea of some of what they’ll talk about in a recent special section of the journal Optical Engineering on space telescopes. (Guest editors Mark Clampin [James Webb Space Telescope] and Kathryn Flanagan [Space Telescope Science Institute] are both participants in the Amsterdam meeting, SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation.)

Get out that telescope -- keep looking up!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

#FacesofPhotonics: Optimax Director of Technology and Strategy, Jessica DeGroote Nelson

SPIE Senior Member Jessica DeGroote Nelson works as the director of technology and strategy at Optimax Systems in Ontario, New York. She also teaches as an adjunct assistant professor at The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester (UR), and is a Conference Chair for SPIE Optifab 2019. 
This year at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, Nelson will be teaching Optical Materials, Fabrication, and Testing for the Optical Engineer. This course is geared toward optical engineers who are hoping to learn the basics about how optics are made, and ways in which to help reduce the cost of the optics they are designing. 
"Optical tolerancing and the cost to fabricate an optic can be a point of tension or confusion between optical designers and optical fabricators," Nelson says. "I teach this course to help give optical designers who are new to the field a few tools in their toolbelt as they navigate tolerancing and purchasing some of their first designs. One of the thi…

#FacesofPhotonics: Photovoltaics PhD Student Arfa Karani

Meet this week's SPIE Faces of Photonics feature, Arfa Karani. Arfa is a physics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the physics of solar cells. She is originally from India, but has lived outside her home country for many years while pursuing her education. 

Arfa was also President of the SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Cambridge in 2017-18, and continues to remain involved with the chapter when she's not hard at work in the university's Cavendish Lab.


Enjoy her interview!




1. How did you become interested in the optics and photonics field? Was there a person who inspired you?

My physics teacher at school inspired me. I got interested in studying optics because my curiosity was satisfied by this teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about what they did. When you ask too many questions as a child, people try to divert your attention once they are tired of answering. Not this teacher.

I know it’s a bit cliché, but I was amazed by how one could cre…