This light-sensing camera with more than 1,000 sensors can detect signs of alien life

Considered as one of the highest-performance cameras ever, it can also detect elusive dark matter.

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NIST electronics engineer Varun Verma explains how a new NIST camera, made of nanometer-scale wires, could efficiently capture light from atmospheres of extrasolar planets that possibly harbor life. (Image: NIST)
WASHINGTON: Researchers have developed one of the highest-performance cameras ever, which they say may be useful in the search for chemical signs of life on other planets, and in detecting the elusive dark matter.

The camera developed by the researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US is composed of more than 1,000 sensors, or pixels, that count single photons, or particles of light.

Described in the journal Optics Express, the camera consists of sensors made from superconducting nanowires, which can detect single photons.


They are among the best photon counters in terms of speed, efficiency, and range of colour sensitivity, the researchers said.

The team used these detectors to demonstrate Einstein's "spooky action at a distance," for example.

The theory referred to 'quantum entanglement' states that the measurement of one particle will instantly influence another particle, regardless of how far apart they are.
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Micrograph of NIST’s high-resolution camera made of 1,024 sensors that count single photons, or particles of light. The camera was designed for future space-based telescopes searching for chemical signs of life on other planets. The 32-by-32 sensor array is surrounded by pink and gold wires connecting to electronics that compile the data. (Image: V. Verma/NIST​)
<p>Micrograph of NIST’s high-resolution camera made of 1,024 sensors that count single photons, or particles of light. The camera was designed for future space-based telescopes searching for chemical signs of life on other planets. The 32-by-32 sensor array is surrounded by pink and gold wires connecting to electronics that compile the data. (Image: V. Verma/NIST)<br></p>

The nanowire detectors don't count false signals caused by noise rather than photons, according to the researchers.

This feature is especially useful for dark-matter searches and space-based astronomy, the researchers said.

The camera may be useful in future space-based telescopes searching for chemical signs of life on other planets, and in new instruments designed to search for the elusive "dark matter" believed to constitute most of the "stuff" in the universe, they said.

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However, cameras with more pixels and larger physical dimensions than previously available are required for these applications.

They also need to detect light with longer wavelengths than currently practical.

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The camera is small in physical size, a square measuring 1.6 millimetres on a side, but packed with 1,024 sensors (32 columns by 32 rows) to make high-resolution images.


The main challenge was to find a way to collate and obtain results from so many detectors without overheating, researchers said.

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

Each chemical element in the planet's atmosphere would absorb a unique set of colours, he said.

"The idea is to look at the absorption spectra of light passing through the edge of an exoplanet's atmosphere as it transits in front of its parent star," Verma explained.

"The absorption signatures tell you about the elements in the atmosphere, particularly those that might give rise to life, such as water, oxygen and carbon dioxide," he said.

Apophis Can Wipe Out A Country: A Look At Every Massive Asteroid That Has Hit Earth
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A monster asteroid - named Apophis after the Egyptian 'God of Chaos' - is likely to swoosh past Earth, but there is a slight chance that it may hit the planet.



The bigger-than-Eiffel Tower asteroid, weighing around 27 billion-kg, could leave a crater impact of 1.6 km wide in diameter and 518 metre deep. It has the capacity of an 880 million tonne TNT explosion that can wipe out large cities or even an entire country.



First spotted in August 2006, the ‘hazardous’ asteroid was initially named 2006 QQ23.



Meanwhile, the European Space Agency recently released a 'risk list' of 878 asteroids that are likely to cause a massive impact on Earth in the next 100 years.



Here's a look at all the asteroids Earth has braved.

A monster asteroid - named Apophis after the Egyptian 'God of Chaos' - is likely to swoosh past Earth, but there is a slight chance that it may hit the planet.The bigger-than-Eiffel Tower asteroid, w..
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This is the famous asteroid impact that hit Earth approximately 66 million years ago in the present-day town of Chicxulub in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula state, during the end of the Cretaceous period.



The asteroid was between 11-81 km in diameter. Its impact caused a 180 kilometre wide crater, making it one of biggest known impactors on Earth. The asteroid heated organic matter in rocks and ejected it into the atmosphere, forming soot in the stratosphere. Soot is a strong, light-absorbing aerosol that caused global climate changes that triggered the mass extinction of dinosaurs, ammonites, and other animals, and led to the macroevolution of mammals and the appearance of humans.



The Apophis asteroid is relatively smaller in size compared to this one.

This is the famous asteroid impact that hit Earth approximately 66 million years ago in the present-day town of Chicxulub in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula state, during the end of the Cretaceous period...
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In March or April of 1490, China's Qingyang city experienced the Ch'ing-yang air burst. The meteor shower may have occurred because it got disintegrated from an asteroid after entering the atmosphere. While there hasn't been any confirmation, it is believed that the meteor shower may have caused a large number of casualties.
In March or April of 1490, China's Qingyang city experienced the Ch'ing-yang air burst. The meteor shower may have occurred because it got disintegrated from an asteroid after entering the atmosphere..
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On June 1908, Russia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate, which is now now Krasnoyarsk Krai, saw a large explosion. With three casualties and an impact stretch of over 2,000 sq km, the carter - the circular, bowl-shaped depression on the surface of the Earth - was never found.



The researchers believe that the object was disintegrated about 5-10 km before hitting the surface. Considered as Earth's largest impact event, its size was estimated somewhere between 50 metre and 190 metre, depending on the speed at which it travelled. Its energy was estimated to be 1,000 times greater than the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, knocking down around 80 million trees due to the shock wave, which was capable of wiping out a metropolitan city.

On June 1908, Russia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate, which is now now Krasnoyarsk Krai, saw a large explosion. With three casualties and an impact stretch of over 2,000 sq km,..
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This superbolide (a meteor brighter than the moon that radiate energy due to friction or pressure, and exploded after entering the atmosphere) entered our planet's atmosphere on February 2013 over southern Ural region in Russia's Chelyabinsk Oblast. An approximately 20-metre asteroid turned into a fireball, emitting light brighter than the Sun that was visible from a distance of up to 100 km.


While the atmosphere absorbed most of the object's energy, it resulted in major shock waves that shattered glass, damaged buildings and even caused 1,500 injuries. If the energy wasn't absorbed, the impact could have been 26-33 times greater than the nuclear blast at Hiroshima.


With over 12,000K – 13,000K kg heavier than France's Eiffel Tower, this is the biggest natural object that entered the atmosphere ever since the 1908 Tunguska impact.

This superbolide (a meteor brighter than the moon that radiate energy due to friction or pressure, and exploded after entering the atmosphere) entered our planet's atmosphere on February 2013 over ..
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