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The Green Beam—USU’s nighttime landmark the world’s largest laser

February 14th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

Lidar laser doesn’t just put on a strange show over the Logan night sky; it’s a leader in atmospheric studies

By Lindsay Nemelka
Aggie BluePrint

LOGAN—The mysterious green beam can be seen shining above campus on clear nights. Even though half-serious suspicions of UFO contact circulate, the beam is actually a super-concentrated laser used to take atmospheric temperatures. USU’s “lidar” laser is the biggest of its kind in the world.

Utah State University’s Science Engineering Research building is home to the Atmospheric Lidar Observatory, and the world’s biggest Rayleigh laser. The head of the lidar project for the National Science Foundation is Vincent Wickwar, a professor of more than 20 years at USU.


The “most visual experiment in the valley,” according to Wickwar, is a complex system of powerful lasers, a telescope, fiber optics, mirrors, light amplifiers and detectors. The Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) laser relies on Rayleigh Scattering to measure temperatures.

“No one has anything else this big,” said Wickwar. This is the largest (the most sensitive and the biggest telescope) Rayleigh Scatter lidar in the world.

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