Abstract

Deep shadowing of a normally incident plane wave by an opaque circular disk is partially negated by the formation of a region of strong intensity surrounding the axis passing normally through the disk center. This local intensity enhancement, historically referred to as the Poisson Spot (also known as the Spot of Arago), has been the principal source of difficulties in applications where a significant reduction of the incident intensity is essential. In particular, the NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder’s (TPF) mission requires suppression of direct starlight by at least 10 orders of magnitude over the entire visible spectral range. One technique that has been proposed for blocking the direct starlight is to use a rotationally symmetric disk with petallike segments along its boundary. We find that, even though such configurations could, indeed, theoretically provide the desired intensity reduction, they would require unreasonably small radii of curvature at the petals’ tips (in the range of micrometers). When the radii of curvature are increased to 3mm, the intensity reduction drops to a modest 5 to 6 orders of magnitude. Given that for the NASA’s TPF mission the proposed occulter radius would be on the order of 25m, even the 3mm radius of curvature would be too small for any practical implementation. Further increases of the radius of curvature result in progressively poorer intensity suppression. As an alternative solution we propose an apodized circular disk. We show that with an optimized apodization function, intensity reductions of at least 10 orders of magnitude can be achieved over the entire visible spectral range. Numerical results are presented for parameters appropriate to the NASA TPF mission.

© 2011 Optical Society of America

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