A snapshot full-Stokes spectropolarimeter for detecting life on Earth


We present the design of a point-and-shoot non-imaging full-Stokes spectropolarimeter dedicated to detecting life on Earth from an orbiting platform like the ISS. We specifically aim to map circular polarization in the spectral features of chorophyll and other biopigments for our planet as a whole. These non-zero circular polarization signatures are caused by homochirality of the molecular and supramolecular configurations of organic matter, and are considered the most unambiguous biomarker. To achieve a fully solid-state snapshot design, we implement a novel spatial modulation that completely separates the circular and linear polarization channels. The polarization modulator consists of a patterned liquid-crystal quarter-wave plate inside the spectrograph slit, which also constitutes the first optical element of the instrument. This configuration eliminates cross- talk between linear and circular polarization, which is crucial because linear polarization signals are generally much stronger than the circular polarization signals. This leads to a quite unorthodox optical concept for the spectrograph, in which the object and the pupil are switched. We discuss the general design requirements and trade-offs of LSDpol (Life Signature Detection polarimeter), a prototype instrument that is currently under development.