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Adaptive Nulling for Interferometric Detection of PlanetsAn adaptive-nulling method has been proposed to augment the nulling-optical- interferometry method of detection of Earth-like planets around distant stars. The method is intended to reduce the cost of building and aligning the highly precise optical components and assemblies needed for nulling. Typically, at the mid-infrared wavelengths used for detecting planets orbiting distant stars, a star is millions of times brighter than an Earth-sized planet. In order to directly detect the light from the planet, it is necessary to remove most of the light coming from the star. Nulling interferometry is one way to suppress the light from the star without appreciably suppressing the light from the planet. In nulling interferometry in its simplest form, one uses two nominally identical telescopes aimed in the same direction and separated laterally by a suitable distance. The light collected by the two telescopes is processed through optical trains and combined on a detector. The optical trains are designed such that the electric fields produced by an on-axis source (the star) are in anti-phase at the detector while the electric fields from the planet, which is slightly off-axis, combine in phase, so that the contrast ratio between the star and the planet is greatly decreased. If the electric fields from the star are exactly equal in amplitude and opposite in phase, then the star is effectively nulled out. Nulling is effective only if it is complete in the sense that it occurs simultaneously in both polarization states and at all wavelengths of interest. The need to ensure complete nulling translates to extremely tight demands upon the design and fabrication of the complex optical trains: The two telescopes must be highly symmetric, the reflectivities of the many mirrors in the telescopes and other optics must be carefully tailored, the optical coatings must be extremely uniform, sources of contamination must be minimized, optical surfaces must be nearly ideal, and alignments must be extremely precise. Satisfaction of all of these requirements entails substantial cost.
Document ID
Document Type
Other - NASA Tech Brief
Lay, Oliver P. (California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Peters, Robert D. (California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
March 1, 2010
Publication Information
Publication: NASA Tech Briefs, March 2010
Subject Category
Man/System Technology and Life Support
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

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NameType 20100009655.pdf STI

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IDRelationTitle20100009649Analytic PrimaryNASA Tech Briefs, March 2010