Résumé
In physics, coherence length is the propagation distance over which a coherent wave (e.g. an electromagnetic wave) maintains a specified degree of coherence. Wave interference is strong when the paths taken by all of the interfering waves differ by less than the coherence length. A wave with a longer coherence length is closer to a perfect sinusoidal wave. Coherence length is important in holography and telecommunications engineering. This article focuses on the coherence of classical electromagnetic fields. In quantum mechanics, there is a mathematically analogous concept of the quantum coherence length of a wave function. In radio-band systems, the coherence length is approximated by where is the speed of light in vacuum, is the refractive index of the medium, and is the bandwidth of the source or is the signal wavelength and is the width of the range of wavelengths in the signal. In optical communications and optical coherence tomography (OCT), assuming that the source has a Gaussian emission spectrum, the roundtrip coherence length is given by where is the central wavelength of the source, is the group refractive index of the medium, and is the (FWHM) spectral width of the source. If the source has a Gaussian spectrum with FWHM spectral width , then a path offset of will reduce the fringe visibility to 50%. It is important to note that this is a roundtrip coherence length — this definition is applied in applications like OCT where the light traverses the measured displacement twice (as in a Michelson interferometer). In transmissive applications, such as with a Mach–Zehnder interferometer, the light traverses the displacement only once, and the coherence length is effectively doubled. The coherence length can also be measured using a Michelson interferometer and is the optical path length difference of a self-interfering laser beam which corresponds to fringe visibility, where the fringe visibility is defined as where is the fringe intensity.
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