Chinese researchers successfully tested the world’s first “lobster eye” telescope that will produce some of the most accurate X-ray images of the known universe.
The sophisticated imaging device was inspired by lobsters and other similar crustaceans whose specialised eye structure allows the ocean-dwelling creatures to see clearly in dark or murky waters.
Animals like lobster and shrimp have an unlimited field of view owing to the intricate design of their eyes.
First described in science journals nearly fifty years ago, their ocular structure is made up of several hundred tiny tubes that converge at the retina. These hollow tubes allow any incoming light to reflect in every direction.
Prominent British-American astronomer and University of Arizona professor, Roger Angel, proposed replicating the lobster’s complex ocular system for X-ray telescopes.
The Oxford graduate’s hypothesis was not explored for several decades because of the technological limitations of the day.
However, with advancements in modern lens-making and micro-processing techniques, Angel’s vision has become attainable.
Developed by Nanjiang-based optics firm, North Night Vision, the lobster eye telescope is the product of ten years of research and development, according to lead researcher, Yuan Weiman.
Dubbed the Lobster Eye Imager for Astronomy (LEIA), the 53-kilogram device captured a series of X-ray photographs of the universe in December 2022, according to Weiman’s paper published in the peer-reviewed, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
December test proved the technological prowess of LEIA, with the device’s precision exceeded his and his team’s expectations, Weiman, a top scientist from the National Astronomical Observatory in Beijing, told the media.
Weiman explained that until LEIA’s first images were produced, no other X-ray telescope had ever captured such high-resolution images of a vast region of space.
Previously, X-ray optical technology could only detect the brightest sources of light or track singular objects through the sky.
According to the team’s paper, the telescope, orbiting some 500 kilometres above sea level, snapped X-ray shots of the Galactic Centre, a pair of dwarf galaxies known as the Magellanic Clouds and the Scorpius Constellation.
Chinese and European engineers are also currently developing the Einstein Probe, a significantly larger X-ray telescope that is set to blast off into orbit later this year.
The collaborative project will use similar design characteristics from LEIA, according to Interesting Engineering.
Once settled into orbit, the Einstein Probe is set to revolutionise the study of supermassive black holes that are thought to be at the heart of every galaxy.
It has a reported lifespan of three years, but scientists close to the project are hopeful it could stay in orbit for as long as five years, according to the South China Morning Post.