A speckle pattern is a random intensity pattern produced by the mutual interference of a set of wavefronts. This phenomenon has been investigated by scientists since the time of Newton, but speckles have come into prominence since the invention of the laser and have now found a variety of applications.
A familiar example is the random pattern created when a laser beam is scattered off a rough surface - see picture. A less familiar example of speckle is the highly magnified image of a star through imperfect optics or through the atmosphere (see speckle imaging). A speckle pattern can also be seen when sunlight is scattered by a fingernail.
The speckle effect is observed when radio waves are scattered from rough surfaces such as ground or sea, and can also be found in ultrasonic imaging. In the output of a multimode optical fiber, a speckle pattern results from a superposition of mode field patterns. If the relative modal group velocities change with time, the speckle pattern will also change with time. If differential mode attenuation occurs, modal noise results.
The speckle effect is a result of the interference of many waves, having different phases, which add together to give a resultant wave whose amplitude, and therefore intensity, varies randomly. If each wave is modelled by a vector, then it can be seen that if a number of vectors with random angles are added together, the length of the resulting vector can be anything from zero to the sum of the individual vector lengths—a 2-dimensional random walk, sometimes known as a drunkard's walk.
When a surface is illuminated by a light wave, according to diffraction theory, each point on an illuminated surface acts as a source of secondary spherical waves. The light at any point in the scattered light field is made up of waves which have been scattered from each point on the illuminated surface. If the surface is rough enough to create path-length differences exceeding one wavelength, giving rise to phase changes greater than 2π, the amplitude, and hence the intensity, of the resultant light varies randomly.
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