While reading a news snippet about how scientists hope to mimic the structure of a mantis shrimp’s eyes to improve on the next generation of Blu-Ray players, I stumbled on the fact that there is an X-ray space telescope under development using technology based on lobster vision. It’s called the Lobster All-Sky X-Ray Monitor (LASXM), and according to Nigel Bannister of the University of Leicester, the telescope would be “ideal for use as an all-sky X-ray monitor” because of its unlimited field of view.”
It’s not a new idea: in fact, it was first proposed in the 1970s by a scientist at the University of Arizona named Roger Angel, but it’s taken 30 years for optics to advance to the point where building such a technology is even possible.
What makes lobsters special? Well, they have these pea-sized compound eyes made up of long, narrow square cells that give the creature a 180-degree field of view. This allows for maximum reflectivity; each cell captures a tiny amount of light, but the light enters the eye from many different angles and only then is the light focused into a single image. Lobsters don’t have great image resolution, but they don’t really need it. What they do have is ultra-sensitivity to detect movement, and even the polarization of light.
LASXM would mimic that structure with a new technology called microchannel plates: six nested modules — each a bundle of 3 million parallel glass channels — that would combine to give the instrument that same 180-degree field of view. Put it orbit around the Earth aboard a satellite or the International Space Station, such that it completes its orbit every 90 minutes, and you would quickly compile a complete x-ray picture of the sky.”