Space telescopes will use giant liquid lenses

(ORDO NEWS) — For the first time, the ISS will conduct an experiment to create an optical component in space. With the help of new technology, it will theoretically be possible to create huge lenses for space telescopes.

One of the main characteristics of any telescope is the diameter of the main mirror or converging lens. The larger the mirror or lens, the more light the telescope “catches”. Therefore, he sees dimmer objects and can peer deeper into space.

The diameter of the main mirror “Hubble” – 2.4 meters, “James Webb” – 6.5 meters. This is sufficient for the tasks assigned to them, but larger mirrors will expand the possibilities for observations. A space telescope with a mirror or lens of several tens or even hundreds of meters will directly see exoplanets.

Creating a lens is a laborious and long process. First, a blank of the required shape is cast. After that, the glass is heated and slowly cooled, which makes it stronger and more resistant to temperature changes.

The lens is then ground, polished and tested. This process is suitable for creating small lenses, but for huge ones a new method is needed.

An international team of scientists from NASA Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center and the Technion (Israel University of Technology) proposes to take advantage of microgravity and use liquids to cast huge lenses on the space station.

According to the inventors, the creation of such lenses will take much less time, but in terms of quality and optical characteristics they will not be inferior to the “earthly ones”.

First, the method was tested in the laboratory. Liquids are suitable not only for creating lenses, but also for compensating for gravity. The main thing here is to achieve the same density of water and material. In the experiments, scientists used conventional polymers, which are used to make acrylic nails or superglue.

“We filled a round frame immersed in water with a hardening liquid. We created lenses in a bucket that we borrowed from a local janitor, ”says Valeri Frumkin, the author of the method.

Frumkin is on the research team of Moran Bercovici, professor of mechanical engineering at the Technion. The surface quality of the resulting lenses was no worse than those made by the traditional method, and production was much faster.

In December 2021, scientists repeated the experiments during two ZeroG parabolic flights. Each flight allows you to feel weightlessness 25 times for 15-20 seconds. This time, instead of polymers, scientists used synthetic oils of different viscosities.

The lenses were made small, the size of a coin, and the quality was measured by lasers. Of course, the “lens” lost its shape as soon as the plane began to climb again, but for those few seconds it was perfect. The experiment proved the efficiency of the method.

The next stage will take place on the ISS. This Saturday, April 9, Eytan Stibbe arrived at the station as part of the commercial Axiom-1 mission to lead the Fluid Telescope Experiment (FLUTE). This time, as in the laboratory, polymers will be used. The hardened lenses will be returned to Earth for further analysis.

The future of astronomical observations lies with space telescopes. If it is possible to move the production of components into space, the cost of such devices will significantly decrease, and the possibilities will expand.

By the way, according to the inventors, in some cases, the lenses can be left in a liquid state. This will allow you to quickly change their optical properties during operation.

In the more mundane applications of the technology, it became clear during the lab experiments that the new method could quickly and cheaply produce high-quality lenses, such as those for spectacles. And the team has already taken up these areas.

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