We’ve all spent time staring into the night sky and wishing we could see the incredible events that are happening out in the farthest reaches of space. But even the world’s most powerful telescopes are limited in how much they can show us. That is, until Laurent Drissen of Université Laval partnered with ABB Inc. in 2001 with the ambitious goal of building a new instrument that would allow astronomers to see distant phenomena with incredible detail.
In 2005, Drissen and ABB Inc. introduced the SpIOMM imaging Fourier transform spectrometer, a device that lets telescopes see the visible spectrum of every source of light in a field of view a thousand times larger than other spectrometers. That’s like the difference between watching an airplane in the sky through a peep hole or stepping outside and using a pair of binoculars. For the first time, astronomers could train their telescopes on galaxies and supernova remnants, and could study physical characteristics such as temperature, density and motion with unprecedented clarity. Drissen and ABB Inc.’s new technology was so impressive they were soon commissioned to build a second, the even more powerful SITELLE device, now used by astronomers at the Canada–France–Hawaii telescope in Hawaii.
The SpIOMM and SITELLE imaging spectrometers are some of the most complex projects ever undertaken by ABB Inc., and the results have been groundbreaking. Drissen and ABB Inc. have attracted interest from a number of international observatories eager to incorporate the technology into their own telescopes. They plan to continue their work together, improving their spectrometer technology and helping astronomers peer into the depths of the universe.