The presence of the Poisson Spot, also known as the spot of Arago, has been known since the 18th century. This spot is the consequence of constructive interference of light diffracted by the edge of the obstacle where the central position can be determined by symmetry of the object. More recently, many NASA missions require the suppression of this spot in the visible range. For instance, the exoplanetary missions involving space telescopes require telescopes to image the planetary bodies orbiting central stars. For this purpose, the starlight needs to be suppressed by several orders of magnitude in order to image the reflected light from the orbiting planet. For the Earth-like planets, this suppression needs to be at least ten orders of magnitude. One of the common methods of suppression involves sharp binary petaled occulters envisioned to be placed many thousands of miles away from the telescope blocking the starlight.
The suppression of the Poisson Spot by binary sharp petal tips can be problematic when the thickness of the tips becomes smaller than the wavelength of the incident beam. First they are difficult to manufacture and also it invalidates the laws of physical optics. The proposed partially transparent petaled masks/occulters compensate for this sharpness with transparency along the surface of the petals. Depending on the geometry of the problem, this transparency can be customized such that only a small region of the petal is transparent and the remaining of the surface is opaque. This feature allows easy fabrication of this type of occultation device either as a mask or occulter.
A partially transparent petaled mask/occulter has been designed for the visible spectrum range. The mask/occulter can suppress the intensity along the optical axis up to ten orders of magnitude. The design process can tailor the mask shape, number of petals, and transparency level to the near-field and far-field diffraction region. The mask/occulter can be used in space astronomy, ground-based telescope, and high-energy laser systems, and optical lithography to eliminate the Poisson Spot.
This work was done by Ron Shahram Shiri of Goddard Space Flight Center, and Wasyl Wasylkiwskyj of The George Washington University. GSC-16588-1