Scottish Scientists Granted £250K To Build Alien Detection Laser

HD 189733b, the first exoplanet caught passing in front of its parent star in X-rays
HD 189733b, the first exoplanet caught passing in front of its parent star in X-rays
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

A team of Scottish scientists have been awarded a grant of £250,000 to build an alien detector.

Sploid alerts us to the work of Professor Derryck Reid, who is head of optics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Reid and his team are building a infrared laser device which is designed specifically to search for small, Earth-like planets around alien stars.

If built, the laser will be fitted to the proposed ESO European Extremely Large Telescope, which would be the most powerful on Earth when constructed atop a mountain in Chile. The £1 billion telescope is currently held up in the Brazilian parliament, but will likely soon go ahead.

The grant from the UK Science and Technologies Funding Counci isn't enough for Reid and team to build the entire instrument, but will help them explore the technology needed for a proof-of-concept.

Reid believes the 'comb laser' his team is working on would allow astronomers to hunt for planets with a far greater degree of accuracy than ever before. Such worlds are too far away to 'see' with a normal telescope, but by analysing how light from distant stars changes over time (as planets pass in front of them) it is possible to detect worlds - and even understand what they're like.

"Current technology is very good but this is a new technology that will help us in the search for new Earth-sized planets," he told the Scotsman.

More than 1,000 exoplanets have been discovered in recent years, thanks in large part to the Kepler space telescope.