Astronomical Optical Interferometry

A Literature Review by Bob Tubbs

St John's College Cambridge

April 1997 - updated 2002



This report documents the development of optical interferometry and provides a physical explanation of the processes involved. It is based upon scientific papers published over the last 150 years, and I have included references to the ones which are most relevant. The reader is assumed to have an understanding of modern optical theory up to undergraduate level - References 28 and 29 give explanations at a more basic level. The formation of images from interferometric measurements is discussed and several example images are included.


Fizeau first suggested that optical interferometry might be used for the measurement of stellar diameters at the Academie des Sciences in 18671. The short wavelength of light and the absence of sensitive calibrated detectors precluded more sophisticated interferometric measurements in the optical spectrum for over a century. After the Second World War most researchers instead turned to the radio spectrum, where macroscopic wavelengths and electronic detection greatly simplified the measurement of interferometric quantities. Modern computers, lasers, optical detectors and the data processing techniques developed for radio interferometry have recently enabled astronomers to produce high resolution images with optical arrays. At present only a few optical interferometer arrays are capable of image formation but many more are planned or under construction. The basic principles underlying the operation of optical interferometers have not changed, so I begin with a look at some of the earliest instruments.


For a more detailed description of astronomical optical interferometry I would recommend this review article by John Monnier (68 pages).


My thesis on Lucky Imaging has recently been reprinted as a book by VDM:

Lucky Exposures: Diffraction Limited Astronomical Imaging through the Atmosphere.

Covers developments between 2000 and 2003 for using Lucky Imaging / Video Astronomy at large telescopes. A reprint of my Ph.D. thesis.

Published by VDM Verlag Dr Muller, Dudweiler Landstr. 125a, 66123 Saarbrucken, Germany.
ISBN-13: 978-3836497695.

External Links

Interferometry Links at JPL.

Download milestone papers/articles on optical interferometry technology

Other recent reviews of optical interferometry are listed as references 30-33.

My interferometry page and thesis.

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About Bob Tubbs.

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