Eliminating Poisson's Spot with Linear Programming

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A leading design concept for NASA's upcoming planet-finding space telescope involves placing an occulter 72,000 km in front of a 4-m telescope. The purpose of the occulter is to block the bright starlight thereby enabling the telescope to take pictures of planets orbiting the blocked star. Unfortunately, diffraction effects prevent a simple circular occulter from providing a sufficiently dark shadow—a specially shaped occulter is required. In this paper, I explain how to reduce this shape-optimization problem to a large-scale linear programming problem that can be solved with modern LP tools.