Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America ( IF 9.412 ) Pub Date : 2020-10-27 , DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2010878117 Nathalie Picqué, Theodor W. Hänsch
We probe complex optical spectra at high resolution over a broad span in almost complete darkness. Using a single photon-counting detector at light power levels that are a billion times weaker than commonly employed, we observe interferences in the counting statistics with two separate mode-locked femtosecond lasers of slightly different repetition frequencies, each emitting a comb of evenly spaced spectral lines over a wide spectral span. Unique advantages of the emerging technique of dual-comb spectroscopy, such as multiplex data acquisition with many comb lines, potential very high resolution, and calibration of the frequency scale with an atomic clock, can thus be maintained for scenarios where only few detectable photons can be expected. Prospects include spectroscopy of weak scattered light over long distances, fluorescence spectroscopy of single trapped atoms or molecules, or studies in the extreme-ultraviolet or even soft–X-ray region with comb sources of low photon yield. Our approach defies intuitive interpretations in a picture of photons that exist before detection.