The relationship between the visibility of fringes and the degree of spatial coherence in electromagnetic two-pinhole interference is assessed. It is demonstrated that the customary definition of the degree of coherence of an electromagnetic field is flawed and a new quantity, free of the formal drawbacks, is introduced. The new definition, which is shown to be consistent with known results for Gaussian statistics, has some unusual properties characteristic only for electromagnetic fields. The degree of coherence is measurable by a sequence of interference experiments.
© 2003 Optical Society of America
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