New version of green laser up and running at USU

A new and improved version of a light-tracking laser was placed on top of the Science Research building the summer of 2010, beaming a green light on clear nights, and was most recently used Feb. 3.The laser is known as LIDAR – Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging system. It will soon be the most sensitive LIDAR in the world, and is meant to gauge the rate of photons returning from the atmosphere in relationship with molecules in the sky, said physics professor Vince Wickwar.”It’s fun to see the laser going off, and to be this close to the research,” said physics major Lance Peterson, who is using the LIDAR for his graduate thesis and will be presenting the information behind the laser to schools in Ithaca, N.Y., in late March.Peterson said he isn’t yet sure when the laser will officially qualify as the most sensitive LIDAR in the world because he is uncertain when it will become fully operational in being able to completely process its data.Activating just one laser costs at least $100,000, said Marcus Bingham, a physics junior who has also been heavily involved in the project.While the LIDAR can extend 55 miles, only one-and-a-half miles of its extension could be viewed from the ground on Thursday before being blocked by cloud coverage, Peterson said. LIDAR functions by measuring how far photons are released into the atmosphere before hitting molecules that essentially act as walls, sending the photons back where they came. Some photons will rise higher than others before coming into contact with a thinner concentration of molecules and coming back to Earth.The photons will then glance off mirrors and travel into a fiber-optic cable which will then pass through what Peterson called a “chopper.” The light being divided is then prepared to enter into a monitor called photomultiplier tube housing (PMT), which sends the information of how the photons act with the molecules.Wickwar said the LIDAR beats 30 times per second, and Peterson said because of the rapidity of the light, one would go blind if they stared directly at it for even one-thirtieth of a second.

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