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Advanced Optics Could Help Us Find Earth 2.0

DUET Deployment

NASA has long been interested in building bigger and better space telescopes. Its Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has funded several methods for building and deploying novel types of telescopes for various purposes. Back in 2019, one of the projects they funded was the Dual Use Exoplanet Telescope (DUET), which would use an advanced form of optics to track down a potential Earth 2.0.

So far, the largest telescope launched into space is JWST, with a 6.5m primary mirror. However, even with that big of a mirror, it is difficult to differentiate exoplanets from their stars, which may be only a few milliarcseconds away from each other. Larger telescopes on the ground have slightly higher resolutions, but they suffer from other limitations, such as atmospheric distortion and cloud cover.

A larger telescope in space would solve many of those problems, but launching one that is simply a larger version of JWST is prohibitively expensive or just plain prohibited, depending on whether it would fit in a rocket fairing. Even Starship and other next-generation launch systems couldn’t fit a 10 m assembled primary mirror.

PI Tom Ditto gives a talk at the SETI Institute about the DUET telescope.
Credit – SETI Institute YouTube Channel

So, researchers have started to turn to alternative optical techniques that could solve this problem. One commonly known optical phenomenon is diffraction. The best-known example is the famous “slit” experiment that many kids perform in physics class. Light bends when going around an edge, and engineers can take that principle, scale it up, and build something that bends the light from far-away stars.

That is the underlying principle of DUET – it uses a technique called primary objective grating (POG) to focus specific wavelengths that might be of interest – for example, that wavelength that would show oxygen in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. In particular, DUET uses a type of POG that results in a circular spectrogram. Although this idea is novel in astronomy, it has been used in other fields. Tom Ditto, the PI on the project, was originally an artist before converting into a technologist focusing on optics.

With the NIAC Phase I funding, Ditto and his team developed a bench-top experiment that proved the technology underlying DUET. It consists of a slatted first data collection stage that focuses the light from a star of interest on a secondary stage and, thereby, a collector, which captures the data that could be translated into a circular spectrograph. 

DUET Deployment 1
Graphic of deployment of the slits in the outer primary of the DUET telescope.
Credit – Ditto et al.

In particular, the researchers were interested in UV light, as Earth would appear like a bright candle from far away, at least compared to light in other spectra. They tested a violet laser on their bench setup and analyzed the resulting circular spectrograph. It showed great promise for detecting something with a spectrum like Earth’s from very far away.

But there are still hurdles to overcome. One of the bigger concerns was the efficiency of the grating structure used in the experiments. Its 20% efficiency would make it barely feasible to detect the kind of faint objects the telescope is designed for. The deployment mechanism for the grating, which requires the assistance of additional spacecraft separate from the telescope itself, would also be a challenge.

How would we build large telescopes in space? Fraser explains.

That’s where the experiment stands, as NASA has not elected to support the project with a Phase II grant so far. Given the history of exoplanet discovery, it’s only a matter of time before we find Earth 2.0. What technology we will use to do so is up in the air.

Learn more:
Ditto et al. – DUET The Dual Use Exoplanet Telescope
UT – Building Space Telescopes… In Space
UT – Future Space Telescopes Could be 100 Meters Across, Constructed in Space, and Then Bent Into a Precise Shape
UT – Using Smart Materials To Deploy A Dark Age Explorer

Lead Image:
Graphic of the DUET Space Telescope Fully Deployed.
Credit – Ditto et al.

The post Advanced Optics Could Help Us Find Earth 2.0 appeared first on Universe Today.

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Podcast #1,001: Systems and Tools for Stealing Back Hours of Productivity

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Many businesses and individuals feel stretched and overwhelmed, and they don’t complete all of the tasks they need to. They often turn to finding a new application to use or hiring additional employees to help spread out the workload.

My guest says that if you use the tools and team you already have in a more effective way, you can reclaim hours of productivity.

Nick Sonnenberg, founder and CEO at Leverage (a consulting firm that helps teams improve efficiency), is also the author of the book Come Up for Air: A Guide for Teams to Stop Drowning In Work. Nick Sonnenberg explains on today’s show how people spend 60% of their work time thinking about work and why adding more staff can make things worse. He shares his “CPR Business Efficiency Framework” and how changing the way you communicate, plan and manage resources could save hours. We discuss how to manage your communication channels to avoid what Nick calls the “Scavenger Hunt,” a tool that is underutilized for managing your inbox. We also talk about how you can stop wasting hours on meetings and make small changes to save time. We also discuss how you can use some of these strategies to save time in your own life.

Podcast Resources

A Butler’s Guide for Managing Your HomeTeach your Wife to be a Widow, by Donald I. Rogers

Nick Sonnenberg: Connect with him

Nick on IGNick at X

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Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves

ICD ITKE HygroShell2022 P01a scaled

Humanity has long sought to tame wood into something more predictable. Sawmills manufacture lumber from trees selected for consistency. Wood is then sawed into standard sizes and dried in kilns to prevent twisting, cupping, or cracking. Generations of craftsmen have employed sophisticated techniques like dovetail joinery, breadboard ends, and pocket flooring to keep wood from distorting in their finished pieces.

But wood is inherently imprecise. Its grain reverses and swirls. Trauma and disease manifest in scars and knots.

Instead of viewing these natural tendencies as liabilities, Achim Menges, an architect and professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, sees them as wood’s greatest assets. Menges and his team at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction are uncovering new ways to build with the material by using computational design—which relies on algorithms and data to simulate and predict how wood will behave within a structure long before it is built. He hopes this work will enable architects to create more sustainable and affordable timber buildings by reducing the amount of wood required.

Menges’s recent work has focused on creating “self-shaping” timber structures like the HygroShell, which debuted at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2023. Constructed from prefabricated panels of a common building material known as cross-laminated timber, HygroShell morphed over a span of five days, unfurling into a series of interlaced sheets clad with wooden scale-like shingles that stretched to cover the structure as it expanded. Its final form, designed as a proof of concept, is a delicately arched canopy that rises to nearly 33 feet (10 meters) but is only an inch thick. In a time-lapse video, the evolving structure resembles a bird stretching its wings.

HygroShell takes its name from hygroscopicity, a property of wood that causes it to absorb or lose moisture with humidity changes. As the material dries, it contracts and tends to twist and curve. Traditionally, lumber manufacturers have sought to minimize these movements. But through computational design, Menges’s team can predict the changes and structure the material to guide it into the shape they want.

“From the start, I was motivated to understand computation not as something that divides the physical and the digital world but, instead, that deeply connects them.”

Achim Menges, architect and professor, University of Stuttgart in Germany

The result is a predictable and repeatable process that creates tighter curves with less material than what can be attained through traditional construction techniques. Existing curved structures made from cross-laminated timber (also known as mass timber) are limited to custom applications and carry premium prices, Menges says. Self-shaping, in contrast, could offer industrial-scale production of curved mass timber structures for far less cost.

To build HygroShell, the team created digital profiles of hundreds of freshly sawed boards using data about moisture content, grain orientation, and more. Those parameters were fed into modeling software that predicted how the boards were likely to distort as they dried and simulated how to arrange them to achieve the desired structure. Then the team used robotic milling machines to create the joints that held the panels together as the piece unfolded.

“What we’re trying to do is develop design methods that are so sophisticated they meet or match the sophistication of the material we deal with,” Menges says.

Menges views “self-shaping,” as he calls his technique, as a low-energy way of creating complex curved architectures that would otherwise be too difficult to build on most construction sites. Typically, making curves requires extensive machining and a lot more materials, at considerable cost. By letting the wood’s natural properties do the heavy lifting, and using robotic machinery to prefabricate the structures, Menges’s process allows for thin-walled timber construction that saves material and money.

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By: John Wiegand
Title: Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/24/1093513/achim-menges-architect-wood-buildings-sustainability/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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