Wolter telescopes of types I, II and III (top to bottom).

A Wolter telescope is a telescope for X-rays that only uses grazing incidence optics – mirrors that reflect X-rays at very shallow angles.

Problems with conventional telescope designs

Conventional telescope designs require reflection or refraction in a manner that does not work well for X-rays. Visible light optical systems use either lenses or mirrors aligned for nearly normal incidence – that is, the light waves travel nearly perpendicular to the reflecting or refracting surface. Conventional mirror telescopes work poorly with X-rays, since X-rays that strike mirror surfaces nearly perpendicularly are either transmitted or absorbed – not reflected.

Lenses for visible light are made of transparent materials with an index of refraction substantially different from 1, but all known X-ray-transparent materials have index of refraction essentially the same as 1,[1] so a long series of X-ray lenses, known as compound refractive lenses, are required in order to achieve focusing without significant attenuation.

X-ray mirror telescope design

X-ray mirrors can be built, but only if the angle from the plane of reflection is very low (typically 10 arc-minutes to 2 degrees).[2] These are called glancing (or grazing) incidence mirrors. In 1952, Hans Wolter outlined three ways a telescope could be built using only this kind of mirror.[3][4] These are called Wolter telescopes of type I, II, and III.[5] Each has different advantages and disadvantages.[6]

Wolter's key innovation was that by using two mirrors it is possible to create a telescope with a usably wide field of view. In contrast, a grazing incidence telescope with just one parabolic mirror could focus X-rays, but only very close to the centre of the field of view. The rest of the image would suffer from extreme coma.

See also


  1. ^ Spiller, E. (2015). "X-Rays: Optical Elements". In Hoffman, Craig; Driggers, Ronald (eds.). Encyclopedia of Optical Engineering. Taylor & Francis. doi:10.1081/E-EOE2. ISBN 9781439850992.
  2. ^ Singh, Kulinder Pal (July 2005). "Techniques in X-ray Astronomy" (pdf). Resonance. 10 (7): 8–20. doi:10.1007/BF02867103. S2CID 118308910.
  3. ^ Wolter, Hans (1952). "Glancing incidence mirror systems as imaging optics for X-rays". Annalen der Physik. 10: 94. Bibcode:1952AnP...445...94W. doi:10.1002/andp.19524450108.
  4. ^ Wolter, Hans (1952). "A generalized Schwarzschild mirror system for use at glancing incidence for X-ray imaging". Annalen der Physik. 10: 286. Bibcode:1952AnP...445..286W. doi:10.1002/andp.19524450410.
  5. ^ "X-ray Telescopes - More Information". NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 11 Dec 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  6. ^ Petre, Rob. "Technology for X-ray and Gamma-ray Detection". NASA.