Several years ago Swanson [Proc. SPIE 1750, 397 (1992)] performed a simple Michelson interferometric determination of the coherence length of a multimode argon-ion laser after the light passed through a tank of water. As colloidal particles were added to the water the observed coherence length (as measured by twice the distance the mirror moved for fringes to disappear) decreased. Subsequently, a series of careful experiments were performed with a single-mode laser to more accurately measure this change. In these experiments it was found that the 1.5-MHz width of the 514.5-nm line of a single-mode argon-ion laser broadened by as much as 1.3 ± 0.2 MHz when small colloidal particles were added. At first glance such a broadening should not have resulted in any discernible change in the original Michelson experiment because the gain curve for the multimode laser is of the order of a few gigahertz. The zeros in the fringe visibility function depend on the spectral characteristics of the modes. Upon scattering, the spectral characteristics of the individual laser modes change from Voigt functions, containing both Lorentzian and Gaussian components, to primarily Gaussian. It is this change in the statistical properties of the modes, not the broadening, that accounts for the change in the fringe visibility for a multimode source.
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