A report proposes the development of a white-light nulling interferometer to be used in conjunction with a single-aperture astronomical telescope that would be operated in outer space. When such a telescope is aimed at a given star, the interferometer would suppress the light of that star while passing enough light from planets (if any) orbiting the star, to enable imaging or spectroscopic examination of the planets. In a nulling interferometer, according to the proposal, scattered light would be suppressed by spatial filtering in an array of single-mode optical fibers rather than by requiring optical surfaces to be accurate within 1/4,000 wavelength as in a coronagraph or an apodized telescope. As a result, angstrom-level precision would be needed in only the small nulling combiner, and not in large, meter-sized optics. The nulling interferometer could work as an independent instrument in space or in conjunction with a coronagraphic system to detect planets outside our solar system.

This work was done by Bertrand Mennesson, Eugene Serabyn, Michael Shao, and Bruce Levine of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-30547

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White-Light Nulling Interferometers for Detecting Planets

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This article first appeared in the June, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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