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The Engineer
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Albany, New York
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Blocking the Star to see the Planet

02/28/2006 3:01 PM

Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences have created an "Optical Vortex Mask". The mask is a thin, tiny, transparent glass chip that is etched with a series of steps in a pattern similar to a spiral staircase.

When light hits the mask dead on, it slows down more in the thicker layers than in thinner ones. Eventually, the light is split and phase shifted so some waves are 180 degrees out of phase with others. The light spins through the mask like wind in a hurricane. When it reaches the "eye" of this optical twister, light waves that are 180 degrees out of phase cancel one another, leaving a totally dark central core.

The technology may be particularly useful in detecting planets. If the center of the vortex is aligned with the center of a star being observed, all light from the star will be blocked leaving only reflected light from any planets that star might have.

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