Flexible Telescope Lenses Could Enhance Scientists’ Ability to Survey the Stars

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Long before civilizations developed, humanity has been fascinated by the stars, and the technological advancements developed over time have given us tools to learn more about the universe beyond our atmosphere. Arguably the most recognizable piece of equipment humans created is the telescope, but as we continue to evolve in our search for knowledge so must the tools we use. Recent advancements have prompted researchers in Taiwan to develop lightweight, flexible lenses that would allow telescopes to view distant exoplanets that orbit outside of our solar system. These new lenses aim to enhance the clarity of captured images by utilizing holographic film, allowing for fine control of the lens focus. The film combined with a flexible body would also allow scientists to convert the captured light into a spectrum for wavelength analysis. 

These “holographic optical elements” as they are being called researchers, are not an entirely new concept and instead build on the design of Fresnel lenses, optical components with a series of flat lenses that mimic the focus of curved lenses. By utilizing a flexible material, these new elements further exaggerate the wavelength separation properties their rigid predecessors exhibited, while also allowing for precision control of focus and clarity. With any luck these new optics will provide astronomers a clearer view of the cosmos and allow us to learn more about the universe beyond our doorstep. 

For more information on this development, click here

Click here, if you are interested in past blogs covering various innovations.

Curiosity Rover Discovers Organic Molecules on Mars

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The Mars Perseverance Rover has made great progress in exploring the mysterious red planet since its launch on July 30, 2020. The full audio recordings Perseverance collected while traversing the Martian surface, as well as the rustling of the planet’s solar winds had scientists and astronomy enthusiasts excited. The mission’s goal began last year by drilling for Martian rock samples in the Jezero crater. Analysis of data provided by Perseverance indicates that Mars may have had ancient flash floods in the area. The clarity of the images showing massive lake and river formations have scientists undoubtedly excited. The evidence gives insight into how Mars was formed, the planet’s hydrology, its layers and composition, among others. By the time studies from future launches in 2030 are complete, researchers hope to have collected approximately 30 samples for analysis. 

Initial attempts to collect Martian samples were conducted by the Curiosity Rover in 2016, but the larger drill bit shattered during its attempt on Mount Sharp, sidelining the mission for several years after. However, in the wake of this setback, NASA shifted gears to analyzing organic molecules present in loose samples the rover had previously collected. The ‘wet chemistry lab’ aboard Curiosity has only 9 cups of solvent and each one is single use, so samples must be chosen carefully and with great intention. The most difficult part of the experiment is collecting organic molecule samples without them breaking down into smaller molecules due to heat. The solvent avoids this problem by reacting with the compounds first to ensure they can be collected for analysis with the least risk of them breaking down. From the sand Curiosity had collected from Ogunquit Beach, researchers found ammonia, benzoic acid, among others, including several compounds that had not been found on Mars before. As of yet, no amino-acid like molecules have been discovered, so we still cannot conclusively say if there was life on Mars or not. 

Even if scientists are unable to discover proof of organic life on our red sister planet, the success of this new experiment paves the way for further research into not just extraterrestrial bodies, but our own planet.  

For more information, click here.  

Click here, to read some of Lenox Laser’s past blog posts covering NASA missions. 

Spectrometer Analysis of Exoplanets Revolutionizes Extraterrestrial Study

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NASA has explored planets a variety of ways in the past, from rockets to astronauts to satellites and probes.  Now, they have a new tool to aid in their passion for discovery, an instrument called NEID, a massive spectrometer that will do deep dive studies of exoplanets in and around our solar system. Exoplanets are planets that orbit around other existing stars, and over the summer, the new instrument brought back data from our sun. The spectrometer’s main purpose is to locate, categorize, and define new planets and their locations within the solar system, and it does so by detecting
small shifts in light from nearby stars. Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona is currently where NEID resides. Pointing at the sky, the spectrometer will bring back data that shows the mass, size, and environmental makeup of these exoplanets, giving scientists a better overall understanding of their habitability and even potential evidence of life
within them. Presently exoplanets are found by detecting light fluctuations within surrounding stars. The spectrometer will provide scientists more exact analysis of these planets as they are discovered, which until now had only been hypothesized. 

The spectrometer operates by splitting light into its various color wavelengths, which allows scientists to identify the molecular makeup of the exoplanets orbiting the star it is analyzing. It is not yet known when the findings of this study will be completed but the hope that it will give us further insight into our evolving understanding of the solar system around us and planets in general. 

Space is an ever-growing challenge to understand, but with today’s technology, solving its mysteries has never been more possible and whatever is found out there is sure to be treated with the utmost respect and will be one for the history books. We at Lenox Laser are excited to see what the NEID will discover and teach us about the world beyond
our atmosphere.

Click here, for more info on the NEID.

To see past Lenox Laser posts covering NASA milestones, click here.

Ingenuity Performing Far Beyond Expectations

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Nasa’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been giving us some of the most breathtaking views of the planet. Two flights were successfully completed recently, flight number 12 on August 15 and number 13 this past Labor Day weekend. Fight 12 astounded scientists because of how far the simple prototype had come. The helicopter only weighs 1.8 kg and was initially designed to show what a simple vehicle could achieve exploring the planet. The original plan for the flight was to go to South Séítah, flying at a 10m altitude and traveling about 235m to get side-by-side detailed images of surface terrain clear enough to make a full 3-D image. During this time over 10 images would be captured, and then given to the Perseverance rover to determine further areas of the planet for study. Ingenuity has dealt with Mars’s harsh winds, dusty, rocky surfaces, craters, and volcanic activity. The helicopter hadbeen through an extremely rough flight from Earth when it was launched back in April of this year for its first trip. The goal of each flight is to learn as much as we can about Mars. With the atmosphere being only 1% of the density of Earth’s, ingenuity is navigating the planet with a high degree of difficulty, making exploration a bigger obstacle. 

Flight 13 was able to fly closer to the planet than any previous attempt, 13 also covered a shorter distance than its predecessor traveling 690 feet compared to 1476 feet on flight 12. The helicopter was never designed to be flying cameras when in prototype stage, so the fact it is accomplishing such feats and lasting long enough is astonishing to scientists. The photos from different directions may help uncover more angles and reveal hidden points of interest.  Overall, the team is excited by the results. Lenox Laser joins in their excitement to see what answers these discoveries will unlock about the red planet. 

To read the original article by NASA, click here

For past coverage Lenox Laser has written about Perseverance and Ingenuity, click here

James Webb Telescope Cleared for Delivery

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The long road to launch the James Webb telescope has been a dream project of epic proportions. However, the immense journey is about the pay off in spades as the big day is just over a month from now on October 31. Teams hard at work at Northrop Grumman have completed all the telescope’s final testing and it has been cleared for launch site delivery in Kourou, French Guiana. These tests were handled by expert teams of transport engineers, a coordination task force, and control experts. This process will be completed no later than the end of September, with other teams in Baltimore, Maryland doing last-minute final technical checks of James Webb’s computers and onboard systems to avoid any last-minute issues. Engineers and scientists from 14 countries in 29 states have been a part of this mission’s inception since day one and are extremely honored and proud to see it come this far. Once launched, it will be a 28-minute ride for the telescope to hit orbit. As the James Webb telescope will become the new premium observatory for major space discovery, seeing it in action is a thing that only comes along once-in-a-lifetime and is not to be forgotten. The maiden exploration phase will last six months. 

 Webb’s trek to its exact orbiting point will take one month and will cover 1 million miles. Once reached, the sunshield can unfold and full-time observations can begin with the sunshield instruments cooling it down little by little over time. This is an immensely gratifying moment considering all the James Webb has overcome to get here, including help from designers, equipment building and testing, maintenance, and delays. Webb has been through it all and beat the odds. During Webb’s time in space, its observations and journey will be one for the history books no matter the discoveries. Lenox Laser had the honor of being part of the project by designing precision alignment targets for its mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). Lenox Laser was even invited to see this process firsthand when they were created. We are excited to see the launch, and hope that it all goes smoothly. 

To read the article posted by NASA themselves, click here.

Interested in Lenox Laser’s previous articles on James Webb’s development? Click here.

Perseverance Faces Setback Following Initial Collection Attempt

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In an unfortunate turn of events, the Mars Perseverance rover has hit a snag while attempting to collect its first sample of Martian rock for analysis. Data sent to Earth indicated that the sample collection tube was empty after the collection process concluded. The team at NASA responsible for overseeing the mission are currently investigating the issue to determine the best course of action moving forward with future sample collection. They plan to utilize the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera located on the rover’s arm to collect initial data about the bore site in the hopes of drawing conclusions as to why the sample was not collected. The team remains optimistic that they will find a solution and be able to move forward with the mission. 

NASA has run into similar issues attempting to sample extraterrestrial matter in the past. The Phoenix mission sampled “sticky” soil that made collection and transport difficult, requiring multiple attempts before being successful. Curiosity encountered problems with Martian rock being harder and more brittle than expected. Most recently, the heat probe of the InSight lander failed to penetrate Mars’s surface as planned. 

Efforts are ongoing to formulate procedures moving forward with future sampling attempts. Success will provide scientists with immeasurable information about Mars and the possibility of, not just past microbial life, but also the viability of human colonization. The entire team at Lenox Laser wishes the folks working on the Perseverance mission the best, and we are excited to learn what Mars has in store for humanity. 

To read more about this latest update from NASA, click here

If you are interested in last week’s blog covering the Perseverance Rover, click here

To read about Lenox Laser’s past involvement with space exploration efforts, click here

NASA Kepler Mission: Update

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The NASA Kepler mission is currently in its second phase of operation since the recovery of the craft and launch of K2. A couple of years ago Kepler lost some important technology and had to return to Earth, but now with K2 being launched, the campaigns can continue.
The mission still retains its original goal of discovering earth-like planets and determining if any are habitable.
Lenox Laser was responsible for fabricating what the scientists over at NASA call the Starfield Plate. This plate consists of stainless steel laser drilled with an array of holes as small as 3 microns in diameter with the purpose of performing photometry.

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NASA Stereo Mission: Update

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The STEREO probes continue to orbit the earth and obtain data despite completing its mission two years into the mission.October 1st, 2014, communications were disrupted between NASA and the Behind craft after a planned reset of the spacecraft’s systems. Ongoing attempts to resume communications with the Behind STEREO are happening. The two probes still monitor solar and heliospheric activity currently.

Lenox Laser fabricated custom parts and provided consulting services in support of testing the focus setting of one of the STEREO instruments during satellite integration at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Without the assistance of the company the project nearly ended, for our help NASA awarded our team the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Instrument Systems and Technology Division 2006 Contractor Team Spirit Award.

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NASA Messenger Mission: Update

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The Messenger mission came to an official end the previous year in 2015 with a planned impact with Mercury’s surface

The spacecraft began orbiting Mercury on March 17, 2011 and orbited a total of 4,105 times.The craft was successfully able to receive all the data it was sent to collect and more, wildly exceeding its expectations, recording information on magnetic anomalies, ice filled craters, and other previously undiscovered features of the planet. Lenox Laser was responsible for fabricating the High Power Ceramic Apertures used for spatial filtering aboard the NASA Messenger space craft. The filters were used to enhance the power of Messenger’s optics.

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Nobel Physics Prizes and 2nd International Light Seminar

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2nd International Light SeminarFrom left to right: Joseph d’Entremont, Alex Dudelzak, Greg Solyar, John Mather, and Reza Sarhangi

Earlier this month, on October 4, we had Dr John C Mather speak at our 2nd International Light Seminar. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his part in the COBE mission regarding the Big Bang theory and the expansion of the universe.

On that very day, the Nobel Prize in Physics was given to another group of scientists also doing work on dark matter and the expansion of the universe, showing that it was in fact rapidly expanding, not slowing down as previously thought. You can read more about this year’s Nobel prize in their press release here. Dr Mather alluded to the recent prize and their work in his talk since it related specifically to the things he has studied. For Dr Mather’s talk, visit our website and click on “Light Seminar”, or click here.

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