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Sensor Developed for Detecting Materials in Asteroids and More


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A somewhat common concept in science fiction is the mining of asteroids and other airless bodies for various materials. In the coming decades this could become a reality, and researchers at Vanderbilt and Fisk Universities, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Planetary Science Institute have recently created something that should help. They have developed a new gamma ray detector that is extremely efficient compared to current systems.

Gamma rays are very high energy photons and are also well known in science fiction. The current gold standard for gamma-ray spectroscopy is high purity germanium, but these systems require a lot of power and cryogenic cooling. Space missions are not really able to supply these needs, but a sensor based on europium-doped strontium iodide (SrI2)is far easier to work with. This newly discovered material is transparent and when a gamma ray hits it, a flash is created that can be seen and recorded. The idea is that a spacecraft of lander could have one of these gamma ray detectors on board and use it to pick up the gamma rays emanating from subsurface materials after they are struck by omnipresent cosmic rays.

By needing less power, weighing less, and being cheaper to make, SrI2 detectors could prove invaluable when an asteroid mining economy starts up. Before then though, we may see them appear on various spacecraft with the purpose of studying make-up of objects throughout the Solar System.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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