NASA to glimpse adolescent universe from revolutionary instrument on a chip

NASA scientists hoping to get a glimpse of the adolescent universe may finally do so from a revolutionary instrument on a chip called MicroSpec.

The new instrument, being developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, is a far-infrared spectrometer that will be 10,000 times more sensitive and many times smaller than similar existing devices.

The instrument is being designed to gather data of objects so distant from Earth that they no longer can be observed in visible light, only in the infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In particular, this instrument, called a spectrometer, will measure the properties of the infrared light to identify the object’s composition and other physical properties.

Just as impressive, the aptly named MicroSpec would be able to perform these highly sensitive observations from a very small platform — so small, in fact, that all its components would fit onto a silicon wafer measuring just four inches in diameter.

Now under development by engineers and scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the instrument is a strong contender for future flight missions in astrophysics and Earth science, astrophysicist Harvey Moseley, who is leading the instrument-development effort, said.

“It’s quite a new and, we think, revolutionary concept. If we can prove it, everyone will want it,” he stated.

“By building an instrument like MicroSpec, and studying this specific era in the universe’s nearly 14-billion-year history, scientists will get a very clear picture of how the universe developed into the kind of place that could support life like us,” Moseley added.

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