# Can radio waves be formed into a pencil beam?

Laser beams are said to have high "spatial coherence". This means that the beam is highly concentrated even at long distances (low spread).

Can this be achieved with radio waves (much longer waves) or is it due to laser's stimulated emission?

• Before the invention of the laser, there was the maser. Commented Dec 22, 2010 at 15:17
• You can get low spread with a radio frequency MASER, but the long wavelength of radio requires much wider apertures for the beam than a pencil. Commented May 26, 2018 at 15:05

Laser light is spatially and temporally coherent. The stimulated emission is mainly responsible for the temporal coherence.

So the answer is yes, you can create an electromagnetic beam that is spatially but not temporally coherent by placing a pinhole close to the source, and then another pinhole in the far field of the first pinhole. This beam will not spread out very much. (But also remember that laser light does spread out.)

Note that for RF frequencies, a "pinhole" is probably several meters in diameter. The far field distance is given by this inequality: $L \gg a^2/\lambda$, where L is the distance, a is the diameter of the hole, and $\lambda$ is the wavelength.

However, creating a RF pencil beam is probably not practical. The term "pencil beam" mentioned in the Wikipedia article is explained as being diffraction-limited. The size of a diffraction-limited beam gets larger with, I believe, the square root of the wavelength. It would be more like a gas-pipeline beam than a pencil beam.

• Suppose I am mathematically modeling a visible green laser pointer beam which starts from the ground and ends up a half mile or full mile in the sky, projected upon an aircraft window 2 inches thick. How much the ground-borne visible green laser pointer beam spread out in the final 2 inches between the front and back pane of the aircraftwindow? The reason I ask this question is to solve one of society's problems where commercial aircraft are grounded due to laser pointers sent from the ground near airports? Thank you. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 7:37
• Please ask a new question; you'll get better answers, because nobody will find your question here as an addendum to this topic! Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 17:11

It depends on how big a pencil you're thinking about. There's no fundamental reason why radio waves can't be collimated in the same sort of way that visible light beams are. In fact, some radar systems send out fairly collimated beams at radio frequencies.

If you want to make a radio-wave beam that is the same size as a typical laser beam, though, you're out of luck. You can't focus light of whatever wavelength down to a distance much smaller than a wavelength and expect it to stay there for very long. Making a reasonably collimated laser beam with a width of a millimeter or so isn't really a problem because the wavelengths of visible light are in the neighborhood of 500 nm, or about 2000 times smaller than the beam. Radio waves, however, have wavelengths that are measured in centimeters or even meters, and those aren't going to let you make a tight beam a millimeter across.

Well, you just need Maser :-) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maser

• This is the correct reply. Quote from the Wikipedia article: "Modern masers can be designed to generate electromagnetic waves at not only microwave frequencies but also radio and infrared frequencies." Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 21:15
• After all these years I will only have to add that diffraction limit to beam "tightness" is valid for radio waves too. So tight beam will require large diameter collimating optic (most likely mirror). So this maser has to have quite large diameter somewhere. Commented May 24, 2018 at 12:33

After thinking about it, I think that perhaps spacing several pinholes by half of the wavelength would filter out any signals traveling in the wrong direction. You would loose a huge amount of energy, so finding a way of (maybe) reflecting the radio waves, until their phase and direction line up, would mitigate the loss. The reason I say maybe is that I'm not sure if the bouncing of rf signals would significantly affect the signal. I think it would work if you simply wanted a beam of rf signals, but I don't know the effect it would have on data integrity.

Using this calculator http://www.csgnetwork.com/freqwavelengthcalc.html , you can determine the (fairly approximate) distance of the pinholes. A more accurate calculator may be helpful, although depending on the limits of beam dispersion, it may be sufficient.