A laser frequency comb that enables radial velocity measurements with a precision of 1 cm s(-1)

Nature. 2008 Apr 3;452(7187):610-2. doi: 10.1038/nature06854.


Searches for extrasolar planets using the periodic Doppler shift of stellar spectral lines have recently achieved a precision of 60 cm s(-1) (ref. 1), which is sufficient to find a 5-Earth-mass planet in a Mercury-like orbit around a Sun-like star. To find a 1-Earth-mass planet in an Earth-like orbit, a precision of approximately 5 cm s(-1) is necessary. The combination of a laser frequency comb with a Fabry-Pérot filtering cavity has been suggested as a promising approach to achieve such Doppler shift resolution via improved spectrograph wavelength calibration, with recent encouraging results. Here we report the fabrication of such a filtered laser comb with up to 40-GHz (approximately 1-A) line spacing, generated from a 1-GHz repetition-rate source, without compromising long-term stability, reproducibility or spectral resolution. This wide-line-spacing comb, or 'astro-comb', is well matched to the resolving power of high-resolution astrophysical spectrographs. The astro-comb should allow a precision as high as 1 cm s(-1) in astronomical radial velocity measurements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.