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Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program

TeraHertz Time Domain Spectroscopy of Astrophysical Analog Materials

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Project Introduction

TeraHertz Time Domain Spectroscopy of Astrophysical Analog Materials
The section of the electromagnetic spectrum extending roughly from wavelengths of 3 millimeters to 30 microns is commonly known as the far-infrared or TeraHertz (THz) region. It contains the great majority of the photons emitted by the universe, and THz observations of molecules and dust are able penetrate deeply into molecular clouds, thus revealing the full history of star and planet formation. Accordingly, the successful deployments of the Herschel and SOFIA observatories, and the emerging capabilities of ALMA, are both revolutionizing our understanding of THz astrophysics and placing stringent demands on the generation of accurate laboratory data on the relevant gas phase and solid state materials detected. With APRA support, we have constructed a combined high bandwidth and high spectral resolution femtosecond THz Time Domain Spectroscopy (THz TDS) system and an FT-IR spectrometer, and coupled these instruments to a high vacuum chamber and cryostat and to gas phase cells including a molecular beam system. We have investigated solid materials from room temperature to 10 K, and can examine both refractory matter such as silicates and molecular ices. For the latter, we have demonstrated that the THz bands observed are uniquely sensitive to both the molecular structure of the ice and its thermal history, and thus that THz observations can provide novel insight into the dominant condensable materials in dense, cold regions. In the gas phase we can record doppler-limited data over at least a decade in bandwidth. While quite capable, the high vacuum cryostat can only study thick samples, especially ices, due to the fairly rapid adsorption of gases onto surfaces at low temperature under such conditions. It is therefore not possible to examine highly layered/structured samples or reactive species. We therefore propose here to upgrade the chamber/cryostat to ultrahigh vacuum, and implement additional sample preparation and characterization tools. With such modifications, it will be possible to characterize highly complex materials from wavelengths of 1 to 1000 microns without gaps and to both determine their optical constants and elucidate the spectral signatures that can be used to search for specific materials or compounds. We will continue to compile and make available a database of optical constants, and will also implement and release radiative transfer models for dust grain size distributions that are commonly employed in molecular astrophysics and planetary science. More »

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