A low cost spectrograph:
diffractive grating in the converging optical beam



1. The theory
The grism assembly
An optimal grism arrangement
The gratings efficiency
Blue efficiency of CCD
6. Some applications





In this section a technique is described for acquisition of pointlike objects using a very low cost spectrograph. The application field would be to study low resolution supernovae spectra and novae spectra, but many other object types would be within reach of the rudimentary spectrograph proposed here, such as comets, planetary nebulae or quasars.

Click here for more informations about the use of this method with a digital SLR (Star Analyser grating)


In order to achieve this goals, the diffraction grating is located directly in the telescope's converging beam, close to the CCD's sensitive surface. With regard to optical aberrations, this is not the best design to be considered (further on we will see some improvements). But such an arrangement provides for an extremely simple and efficient instrument, often called a "field spectrograph" or "imager spectrometer", that can be used on weak objects.

The resolution power parameter (R) is the ratio between wavelength l  and the spectral separation power at this wavelength, Dl :

Our modest spectrograph will allow us to reach R=50 to 100, while some professional slit spectrographs have a resolution in excess of 30,000. However, with this modest resolution, our spectrograph will deliver more usable information than images made using a set of BVRI filters (10 times as many spectral channels since a filter in a BVRI system typically, has a Full Width at Half Maximum - FWHM of 1000A).

Figure below show the grating's position in the optical beam. Depending on wavelength, polychromatic light from a field star is spread differently when going through the array. Hence a spectrum appears in the CCD's plane. Each field object has its own spectrum: stars, galaxies...

Disposition of the grating in the telescope's converging beam.

The deviation angle for a given wavelength light ray is given by:

In this formula a is the angle of  the incident ray respective to a line normal to the surface of the grating, b is the angle of emergence after diffraction, m is the number of  ruled grooves per millimiter (in general, m is comprised between 50 and 1200 grooves/mm), k is an integer number for the spectrum order and l is the wavelength in millimeter.

If on average the incident beam is normal to the surface (as is the case in the preceding figure), then a=0, and we obtain a simplified version of the previous formula:

Let us assume that the grating has 100 grooves per mm and that we are studying the path of a ray at a wavelength of 0,65 micron or 0,65.10-3 mm. For k=0, obviously b is 0 whatever the observed wavelength. This means that through the grating we observe a direct, polychromatic image of the object, with no deviation.

For k=1, angle b is given by

For k=-1, we find a deviation angle of 3,7. This means that on either side of the 0 order we find two identical spectra.

It can easily be verified that for larger values of k other spectra appear symmetrically, farther from the 0 order image. In good quality gratings, grooves are given a shape that concentrate most of the light in a given order different from 0 (this is the grating's blaze angle).

The diffraction of an HeNe laser's beam  when passing through a grating. The screen shows as many monochromatic images of the beam as there are orders. One of the images is much brighter than its neighbors, indicating approximatively the blaze angle (note that this is not the zero order).

On either side of Vega's zero order image (saturated here, hence the vertical blooming streak), are spectra of orders 1 and  1. Further on higher orders can be found, but they are too weak to give a clear visible signal in this CCD image reproduction. This observation was obtained with a #40 Cokin grating, and an Audine camera with a KAF-0400.

Goto index page                                              Next page