Researchers developed a magnetic mirror-based device that could unlock the mysteries of gravitational waves emitted when the universe was very young.
The project is part of a multi-institutional collaboration funded by the European Space Agency’s Technology Research Program to develop technologies necessary for future experiments, including the proposed Cosmic Origins Explorer satellite mission, which aims to acquire high-precision, full-sky maps of the cosmic microwave background, a relic from the Big Bang.
Researchers demonstrated a new type of polarization modulator based on a magnetic mirror in the journal Applied Optics from the Optical Society. This device aims to modulate microwave polarization across a broad frequency range. Broadband operation is required to spectrally discriminate the faint B-mode polarization from the foreground radiation of other astrophysical sources, the report says.
“We, like others, have been working for over two decades on the development of technologies that would enable the detection of the B-mode polarization,” says Giampaolo Pisano of Cardiff University, the paper’s first author. “This has proven to be a challenging problem because only a tiny part of the overall signal exhibits this polarization.”
One of the device’s key components is a half-wave plate, used to modulate the polarization of electromagnetic radiation. Rotating the half-wave plate causes the polarization of the radiation to also rotate, creating an oscillating pattern that can be distinguished from the constant signal of unpolarized radiation, the paper says.
It’s not a new technology, but previous incarnations resulted in inherently narrowband devices due to either the optical properties of available materials or the design used.
“Most of the effort in technology development has been aimed at making optical components that work over larger bandwidths,” says Pisano. “A device that covers a wide frequency range would greatly enhance the performance of complex space-borne instrumentation.”
The prototype these researchers are developing is – at just 20 centimeters across – a miniaturized version of the one that could ultimately be used on the Cosmic Origins Explorer satellite. The scientists are working to develop a half-meter version with the goal of developing the final device, which would be more than a meter in diameter.
“Now that we’ve demonstrated the concept, we need to perform space qualification tests to demonstrate its ruggedness for a satellite launch,” Pisano says. “We also need to deploy it in ground-based B-mode detection instruments to demonstrate its usability in the field.”
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