In optics, a Fabry–Perot interferometer or etalon is typically made of a transparent plate with two reflecting surfaces, or two parallel highly reflecting mirrors. (Technically the former is an etalon and the latter is an interferometer, but the terminology is often used inconsistently.) Its transmission spectrum as a function of wavelength exhibits peaks of large transmission corresponding to resonances of the etalon. It is named after Charles Fabry and Alfred Perot."Etalon" is from the French etalon, meaning "measuring gauge" or "standard".
Etalons are widely used in telecommunications, lasers and spectroscopy to control and measure the wavelengths of light. Recent advances in fabrication technique allow the creation of very precise tunable Fabry–Pérot interferometers.
The heart of the Fabry–Perot interferometer is a pair of partially reflective glass optical flats spaced micrometers to centimeters apart, with the reflective surfaces facing each other. (Alternatively, a Fabry–Perot etalon uses a single plate with two parallel reflecting surfaces.) The flats in an interferometer are often made in a wedge shape to prevent the rear surfaces from producing interference fringes; the rear surfaces often also have an anti-reflective coating.
In a typical system, illumination is provided by a diffuse source set at the focal plane of a collimating lens. A focusing lens after the pair of flats would produce an inverted image of the source if the flats were not present; all light emitted from a point on the source is focused to a single point in the system's image plane. In the accompanying illustration, only one ray emitted from point A on the source is traced. As the ray passes through the paired flats, it is multiply reflected to produce multiple transmitted rays which are collected by the focusing lens and brought to point A' on the screen. The complete interference pattern takes the appearance of a set of concentric rings. The sharpness of the rings depends on the reflectivity of the flats. If the reflectivity is high, resulting in a high Q factor, monochromatic light produces a set of narrow bright rings against a dark background. A Fabry–Perot interferometer with high Q is said to have high finesse.