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The temporary imaging lab on the mountain in Xinjiang province, China

A highly sensitive imaging system in a temporary laboratory (pictured) near Ürümqi in China can reconstruct distant scenes. Credit: Feihu Xu

Optics and photonics

Device sketches objects 200 kilometres away, one photon at a time

The laser-based apparatus receives a steady drip of single photons to craft portraits of distant targets.

A remote-sensing device can transform a trickle of incoming photons into a high-fidelity image of an object more than 200 kilometres away. Similar technology works over distances of only tens of kilometres.

In the imaging method called lidar, a device fires a laser at a target and analyses the reflected light. The longer it takes light to make a round trip, the greater the distance. By combining the data from many incoming photons, lidar systems can build up a 3D profile of the target.

Pan Jianwei, Xu Feihu and their collaborators at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei built a type of single-photon lidar device that sends and receives one photon at a time. The researchers’ system relies mainly on off-the-shelf components, but its custom light sensor detects single photons with high efficiency and low noise. To improve accuracy, the device uses just one telescope, which both shoots light at the target and collects the reflected photons.

The device’s high penetration through the atmosphere makes it suitable for long-distance airborne sensing, the authors write.

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Voyager 1 captures faint ripples in the stuff between the stars

The first spacecraft to visit interstellar space has now become the first to make continuous measurements of waves in that remote realm.
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As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

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The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

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Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

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Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

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Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

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Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

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Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
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