Small is beautiful when it comes to the Universe

Small is beautiful when it comes to the Universe


By Jonathan Hartley TINY lenses are helping astronomers produce better pictures of distant stars and galaxies. The resolution and power of optical telescopes that build up images using light-sensitive charge-coupled devices depends on two factors: the number of pixels on the device’s face, and the ability of a tiny lens in each pixel to funnel light into the optical fibre behind it. A computer collects the input from all the fibres and produces a composite image. Now Russian scientists working in Britain at Macintosh Nano-Optics in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, the company set up to develop the technology, are making microlenses that can focus light better than existing ones. The lenses have a diameter of 0.6 millimetres, which is less than a third of the size of those made with existing techniques. At the moment, the best microlenses focus only about 60 per cent of the light falling on them into the optical fibre. Some light escapes because it has been hard to make the lens curved enough to focus all the light. This limits the resolution of the images produced. Macintosh Nano-Optics claims its lenses pass on nearly 100 per cent of the light falling on them, producing a much clearer picture. The company is reluctant to release details about the lens-making process because it is waiting for a patent to be granted. It will say only that it has reduced the number of manufacturing stages needed to produce the microlenses, making them much smaller and of much higher quality than conventional ones. “It would be a major step forward in exploring galaxies,” says Sue Worswick,
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