Terahertz Remote Sensing Detectors
Terahertz detectors make use of the part of the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and microwave light. In theory, these sensors could see through walls, containers and clothing from hundreds of feet away, and identify the unique signatures of a wide variety of materials within.
(Terahertz detector diagram)
Two lasers at different frequencies aimed at the target together generate a plasma (basically excited, or ionized air). This plasma emits a florescence that is scattered in characteristic ways by the terahertz radiation of the material it hits. The reflection of the florescence is detectable from remote distances
The researchers have tested hundreds of different substances and created a library of terahertz spectra to compare to the signal from the target and instantly identify the material that was hit.
The researchers demonstrated that they could detect the signal from 67 feet away, the length of their laboratory space, but theoretically they could identify materials hundreds of feet or even miles away, Liu said.
Winchell Chung reminds us that E.E. "Doc" Smith describes a similar system in his 1931 novel Space Hounds of IPC. Note how the ultra-light vision system uses twin laser beams that are almost parallel
"...but the ultralight vision system is something else again. Sending the heterodyned wave through steel is easy, but breaking it up, so as to view an object and return the impulses, was an awful job and one that isn't half done yet. We see things, after a fashion and at a distance of a few kilometers, by sending an almost parallel wave from a twin-projector to disintegrate and double back the viewing wave. That's the way the lookout plates and lenses work, all over the ship— from the master-screens in the control room to the plates of the staterooms and lifeboats and the viewing-areas of the promenades."
Via Wired; thanks to Winchell Chung (who can also be followed @nyrath).
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