A parabolic liquid mirror obtained by the rotation of a mercury bath around a vertical axis has been built and its optical surface characteristics measured to demonstrate that it can be used in optical shop testing as a reference surface. A linear Hartmann test allowed us to check that the focal length is well related to the rotation velocity, following the theory, and that no spherical aberration is present, as assumed by previous authors. The spherical aberration has been found to be smaller than λ/50 at 633 nm. An interferometric test of the mirror compared with a null lens gave information about the quality of the optical surface for which the rms wave-front error, when the random errors are averaged, is ∼λ./25. Because modifying the mirror diameter is cheap and fast and adjusting its focal length within a large range is straightforward, the parabolic liquid mirror can become a highly adaptable tool in optical metrology. In particular, it can be used in optical shop testing as a reference surface to test null correctors, to check any system developed to control the shape of large parabolic or quasiparabolic top-quality solid-state mirrors, or to make holographic references of such surfaces.
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