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Scientists hope to get glimpse of adolescent universe from revolutionary instrument-on-a-chip
Date:6/30/2011

Scientists know what the universe looked like when it was a baby. They know what it looks like today. What they don't know is how it looked in its youth. Thanks to technological advances, however, scientists hope to complete the photo album and provide a picture of how the cosmos developed into the kind of place that could support life like that found on Earth.

They plan to gather these never-before-obtained insights with a potentially "game-changing" instrument that is expected to be 10,000 times more sensitive than the current state-of-the-art.

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, said astrophysicist Harvey Moseley, who is leading the instrument-development effort. "It's quite a new and, we think, revolutionary concept," he said. "If we can prove it, everyone will want it."

Stars to Hemoglobin

Although the technology could help answer a plethora of science questions, it is ideally suited for studying the evolution of the universe and by extension, humanity's place in it.

Past NASA missions, including the Goddard-developed Cosmic Background Explorer and the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe, studied the infant univers
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Contact: Lori Keesey
ljkeesey@comcast.net
301-258-0192
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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