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Seeing Interference Fringes with a Telescope

Astronomers build larger telescopes not only to collect more energy but also to resolve finer detail in the objects to be studied. While groundbased optical telescopes with “filled” apertures of up to 10 m have been built, and 30 m and larger-aperture designs are being studied, another method of observations permits equivalent apertures spanning tens to hundreds of meters to be used. Radio astronomers have used these instruments, called interferometers, for decades, with equivalent apertures spanning thousands of kilometers. Optical astronomers have now designed interferometer systems that rely on two (or more) widely-separated telescopes to collect light, and combine the energy to resolve detail that is equivalent to a filled aperture with diameter equal to the separation of the telescopes.

Grade Level: High School (9-12)
Curriculum Topic Benchmarks: M4.4.9, S15.4.4, S15.4.5, S15.4.6, S17.4.1, S17.4.2, S17.4.3
Subject Keywords: Interferometer, Interference fringes, Telescope

Author(s): Stephen J. Edberg
PUMAS ID: 09_21_05_2
Date Received: 2005-09-21
Date Revised: 2006-06-19
Date Accepted: 2006-06-19

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