The European Astronomical Society awards its 2014 Tycho Brahe Prize to Antoine Labeyrie in recognition of his outstanding contributions to modern optical imaging at high angular resolution. Since 2007, the Tycho Brahe Prize is awarded annually in acknowledgment of the development or exploitation of European instruments or major discoveries based largely on such instruments.
Having invented holographic gratings, Antoine Labeyrie proposed the technique of speckle interferometry, which allowed reaching the diffraction limit of telescopes especially the largest ones. Then, he was the first to obtain interference fringes between two separate telescopes after the early single-telescope demonstration by A. Michelson et al. nearly a century ago. He continues to produce an amazing variety of innovative concepts for optical interferometry with large diffracting pupils.
Labeyrie’s deep understanding of optics and physics fuelled his interest in the challenges of astronomical observing, more especially in ways to improve angular resolution. He proposed the method of “speckle interferometry” and, in 1970, applied it with collaborators to improve the angular resolution of the Palomar 5-m telescope by a factor of 50, leading to many discoveries on single and multiple stars.
As he worked to develop the theory of image formation with multi-aperture instruments, he came with the concept of “hypertelescope imaging”, and he conceived practical ways to implement the principle, which leads to optical arrays of many small apertures which perform much better, in theory, than fewer large ones, at given collecting area.
During the development of adaptive optics for large telescopes in the early 80s, Labeyrie proposed the use of an artificial star, created with a laser beam, and described the necessary theory. Laser Guide Stars are now a cornerstone of the adaptive optics systems of the E-ELT.
Antoine Labeyrie obtained his PhD from the University of Orsay, France, in 1968, before starting his career as an optical engineer for the French National Centre for Scientific Research [CNRS] in 1971. Throughout his career, Labeyrie has proved that he is an astronomer of singularly innovative genius, the source of the most important breakthroughs in the field of astronomy. Reaching the diffraction limit in optical light, then breaking through this frontier by the practical application of interferometry was revolutionary, although it appears commonplace now.