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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer May 22, 2008

Light research used to plot celestial bodies

‘Super roadmaps’ will give planetary details


Donald Figer

Technology that could someday “MapQuest” Mars and other bodies in the solar system is under development at RIT’s Rochester Imaging Detector Laboratory in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory.

These “super roadmaps” would give 3-D information about planetary and lunar surfaces layered with details about atmospheric composition, biohazards, wind speed and temperature.

RIT scientist Donald Figer and his team are developing a new type of detector that uses LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a technique similar to radar, but which uses light instead of radio waves to measure distances. The project will deliver a new generation of optical/ultraviolet imaging LIDAR detectors that will significantly extend NASA science capabilities for planetary applications by providing 3-D location information for planetary surfaces and a wider range of coverage than the single-pixel detectors currently combined with LIDAR.

The device will consist of a 2-D continuous array of light sensing elements connected to high-speed circuits. The $547,000 NASA-funded program also includes a potential $589,000 phase for fabrication and testing.“The imaging LIDAR detector could become a workhorse for a wide range of NASA missions,” says Figer, professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and laboratory director.

LIDAR works by measuring the time it takes for light to travel from a laser beam to an object and back into a light detector. The new detector can be used to measure distance, speed and rotation. It will provide high-spatial resolution topography as well as measurements of planetary atmospheric properties. The device can also be used to probe the environments of comets, asteroids and moons.

Figer’s team includes Zoran Ninkov, professor of imaging science, and Stefi Baum, center director.

Susan Gawlowicz

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