Optical design of diffraction-limited x-ray telescopes

Brandon D. Chalifoux, Ralf K. Heilmann, Herman L. Marshall, Mark L. Schattenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Astronomical imaging with micro-arcsecond (µas) angular resolution could enable breakthrough scientific discoveries. Previously proposed µas x-ray imager designs have been interferometers with limited effective collecting area. Here we describe x-ray telescopes achieving diffraction-limited performance over a wide energy band with large effective area, employing a nested-shell architecture with grazing-incidence mirrors, while matching the optical path lengths between all shells. We present two compact nested-shell Wolter Type 2 grazing-incidence telescope designs for diffraction-limited x-ray imaging: a micro-arcsecond telescope design with 14 µas angular resolution and 2.9 m2 of effective area at 5 keV photon energy (λ = 0.25 nm), and a smaller milli-arcsecond telescope design with 525 µas resolution and 645 cm2 effective area at 1 keV (λ = 1.24 nm). We describe how to match the optical path lengths between all shells in a compact mirror assembly and investigate chromatic and off-axis aberrations. Chromatic aberration results from total external reflection off of mirror surfaces, and we greatly mitigate its effects by slightly adjusting the path lengths in each mirror shell. The mirror surface height error and alignment requirements for diffraction-limited performance are challenging but arguably achievable in the coming decades. Because the focal ratio for a diffraction-limited x-ray telescope is extremely large (f/D ∼ 105), the only important off-axis aberration is curvature of field, so a 1 arc sec field of view is feasible with a flat detector. The detector must fly in formation with the mirror assembly, but relative positioning tolerances are on the order of 1 m over a distance of some tens to hundreds of kilometers. Although there are many challenges to achieving diffraction-limited x-ray imaging, we did not find any fundamental barriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4901-4914
Number of pages14
JournalApplied optics
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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