Interferometry is the technique of using the pattern of interference created by the superposition of two or more waves to diagnose the properties of the aforementioned waves. The instrument used to interfere the waves together is called an interferometer. Interferometry is an important investigative technique in the fields of astronomy, fiber optics, engineering metrology, optical metrology, oceanography, seismology, quantum mechanics and plasma physics.

Basic Principle


Typically a single incoming beam of light will be split into two identical beams by a grating or a partial mirror. Each of these beams will travel a different route, called a path, before they are recombined at a detector. The path difference, the difference in the distance traveled by each beam, creates a phase difference between them. It is this introduced phase difference that creates the interference pattern between the initially identical waves. If a single beam has been split along two paths then the phase difference is diagnostic of anything that changes the phase along the paths. This could be a physical change in the path length itself or a change in the refractive index along the path.

Heterodyne and Homodyne detection

In standard interferometry, the interference occurs between two beams at the same wavelength (or carrier frequency). The phase difference between the two beams results a change in the intensity of the light on the detector. Measuring the resulting intensity of the light after mixing of these two light beams is known as Homodyne detection.

In homodyne detection, for a given relative phase shift the output is a constant (DC) signal level. This level is indirectly related to the phase shift. If the minimum and maximum possible values of the signal level are known (through calibration) then one can compute the relative phase shift. In practice, since the optical beams 1) may not be perfectly aligned, 2) are not true plane waves, 3) and in many application usually undergo unknown time varying attenuation on one arm of the interferometer, precise calibration is difficult.

In heterodyne detection one modulates, usually by a frequency shift, one of two beams prior to detection. Optical heterodyne detection detects the interference at the beat frequency. The AC signal now oscillates between the minimum and maximum levels every cycle of the beat frequency. Since the modulation is known, the relative phase of the measured beat frequency can be measured very precisely even if the intensity levels of the beams are (slowly) drifting. This phase is identical in value to the phase one measures in the homodyne case. There are many additional benefits of Optical heterodyne detection including improved signal to noise when one of the beams is weak.

Imaging Interferometry

The pattern of radiation across a region can be represented as a function of position i(x,y), i.e. an image. The pattern of incoming radiation i(x,y) can be transformed into the Fourier domain f(u,v). A single detector measures information from a single point in x,y space. An interferometer measures the difference in phase between two points in the x,y domain. This corresponds to a single point in the u,v domain. The signals from each set of detectors are combined in a device called a correlator. A single detector builds up a full image by scanning through the x,y coordinates. An interferometer builds up a full picture by measuring multiple points in u,v space. The image i(x,y) can then be "restored" by performing an inverse Fourier transform on the measured f(u,v) data. This technique is called aperture synthesis.

In the optical domain, direct phase detection is impossible so Optical heterodyne detection is used. Unscanned (staring) coherent optical imaging arrays have been made possible by a technique known as Synthetic Array Heterodyne Detection(SAHD) and it's practical implementation as Rainbow heterodyne detection.


Astronomical Interferometry

(which is proportional to its diameter). The larger the telescope, the better its resolution. However, the cost of building a telescope also scales with its size. The purpose of astronomical interferometry is to achieve high-resolution observations using a cost-effective cluster of comparatively small telescopes rather than a single very expensive monolithic telescope. The basic unit of an astronomical interferometry is a pair of telescopes. Each pair of telescopes is a basic interferometer. Their position in u,v space is referred to as a baseline.

Early astronomical interferometry was involved with a single baseline being used to measure the amount of power on a particular small angular scale. Later astronomical interferometers were telescope arrays consisting of a set of telescopes, usually identical, arranged in a pattern on the ground. A limited number of baselines will result in insufficient coverage in u,v space. This can be alleviated by using the rotation of the Earth to rotate the array relative to the sky. This causes the points in u,v space that each baseline points at to change with time. Thus, a single baseline can measure information along a track in u,v space just by taking repeated measurements. This technique is called "Earth-rotation synthesis". It is even possible to have a baseline of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of kilometers by using a technique called very long baseline interferometry.

The longer the wavelength of incoming radiation, the easier it is to measure its phase information. For this reason, early imaging interferometry was almost exclusively done with long wavelength radio telescopes. Examples of radio interferometers include the VLA and MERLIN. As the speed of correlators and associated technologies have improved, the minimum radiation wavelength observable by interferometry has decreased. There have been several submillimeter inferometers, with the largest, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, currently under construction. Optical astronomical interferometers have traditionally been specialised instruments, but recent developments have broadened their capabilities.

ee also

* Optical heterodyne detection
* List of astronomical interferometers at visible and infrared wavelengths
* Optical interferometry
* Astronomical interferometer
* Aperture synthesis
* History of astronomical interferometry
* Interference
* Very Long Baseline Interferometry
* Optical coherence tomography
* List of types of interferometers
* phase interferometry



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  • interferometry — interferometrija statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Dydžių verčių matavimas interferometru. atitikmenys: angl. interferometry vok. Interferometrie, f rus. интерферометрия, f pranc. interférométrie, f …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

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  • interferometry — noun see interferometer …   Useful english dictionary

  • Optical interferometry — combines two or more light waves in an optical instrument in such a way that interference occurs between them. Early interferometers used white light sources and also monochromatic light from atomic sources (e.g., Young s double slit experiment… …   Wikipedia

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