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Just what is the limit? To answer that question, consider the diffraction pattern for a circular aperture, which has a central maximum that is wider and brighter than the maxima surrounding it (similar to a slit) [see [link] (a)]. It can be shown that, for a circular aperture of diameter D size 12{D} {} , the first minimum in the diffraction pattern occurs at θ = 1 . 22 λ / D size 12{θ=1 "." "22"λ/D} {} (providing the aperture is large compared with the wavelength of light, which is the case for most optical instruments). The accepted criterion for determining the diffraction limit to resolution based on this angle was developed by Lord Rayleigh in the 19th century. The Rayleigh criterion    for the diffraction limit to resolution states that two images are just resolvable when the center of the diffraction pattern of one is directly over the first minimum of the diffraction pattern of the other . See [link] (b). The first minimum is at an angle of θ = 1 . 22 λ / D size 12{θ=1 "." "22"λ/D} {} , so that two point objects are just resolvable if they are separated by the angle

θ = 1 . 22 λ D , size 12{θ=1 "." "22" { {λ} over {D} } } {}

where λ size 12{λ} {} is the wavelength of light (or other electromagnetic radiation) and D size 12{D} {} is the diameter of the aperture, lens, mirror, etc., with which the two objects are observed. In this expression, θ size 12{θ} {} has units of radians.

Part a of the figure shows a graph of intensity versus theta. The curve has a central maximum at theta equals zero and its first minima occur at plus one point two two lambda over D and minus one point two two lambda over D. Farther from the central peak, several small peaks occur, but they are much much smaller than the central maximum. Part b of the figure shows a drawing in which two light bulbs, labeled object one and object two, appear in the foreground positioned next to each other. Two rays of light, one from each light bulb, pass through a pinhole aperture and continue on to strike a screen that is farther back in the drawing. On the screen is an x y plot of the two resulting intensity patterns. Because the rays cross in the pinhole, the ray from the left light bulb makes the right-hand intensity pattern, and vice versa. The angle between the rays coming from the light bulbs is labeled theta min. Each ray hits the screen at the central maximum of the intensity pattern that corresponds to the object from which the ray came. The central maximum of object one is at the same position as the first minimum of object two, and vice versa.
(a) Graph of intensity of the diffraction pattern for a circular aperture. Note that, similar to a single slit, the central maximum is wider and brighter than those to the sides. (b) Two point objects produce overlapping diffraction patterns. Shown here is the Rayleigh criterion for being just resolvable. The central maximum of one pattern lies on the first minimum of the other.

Connections: limits to knowledge

All attempts to observe the size and shape of objects are limited by the wavelength of the probe. Even the small wavelength of light prohibits exact precision. When extremely small wavelength probes as with an electron microscope are used, the system is disturbed, still limiting our knowledge, much as making an electrical measurement alters a circuit. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts that this limit is fundamental and inescapable, as we shall see in quantum mechanics.

Calculating diffraction limits of the hubble space telescope

The primary mirror of the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope has a diameter of 2.40 m. Being in orbit, this telescope avoids the degrading effects of atmospheric distortion on its resolution. (a) What is the angle between two just-resolvable point light sources (perhaps two stars)? Assume an average light wavelength of 550 nm. (b) If these two stars are at the 2 million light year distance of the Andromeda galaxy, how close together can they be and still be resolved? (A light year, or ly, is the distance light travels in 1 year.)

Strategy

The Rayleigh criterion stated in the equation θ = 1 . 22 λ D size 12{θ=1 "." "22" { {λ} over {D} } } {} gives the smallest possible angle θ size 12{θ} {} between point sources, or the best obtainable resolution. Once this angle is found, the distance between stars can be calculated, since we are given how far away they are.

Solution for (a)

The Rayleigh criterion for the minimum resolvable angle is

Questions & Answers

Suppose a speck of dust in an electrostatic precipitator has 1.0000×1012 protons in it and has a net charge of –5.00 nC (a very large charge for a small speck). How many electrons does it have?
Alexia Reply
how would I work this problem
Alexia
how can you have not an integer number of protons? If, on the other hand it supposed to be 1e12, then 1.6e-19C/proton • 1e12 protons=1.6e-7 C is the charge of the protons in the speck, so the difference between this and 5e-9C is made up by electrons
Igor
what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
Why does earth exert only a tiny downward pull?
Mya Reply
hello
Islam
Why is light bright?
Abraham Reply
what is radioactive element
Attah Reply
an 8.0 capacitor is connected by to the terminals of 60Hz whoes rms voltage is 150v. a.find the capacity reactance and rms to the circuit
Aisha Reply
thanks so much. i undersooth well
Valdes Reply
what is physics
Nwafor Reply
is the study of matter in relation to energy
Kintu
a submersible pump is dropped a borehole and hits the level of water at the bottom of the borehole 5 seconds later.determine the level of water in the borehole
Obrian Reply
what is power?
aron Reply
power P = Work done per second W/ t. It means the more power, the stronger machine
Sphere
e.g. heart Uses 2 W per beat.
Rohit
A spherica, concave shaving mirror has a radius of curvature of 32 cm .what is the magnification of a persons face. when it is 12cm to the left of the vertex of the mirror
Alona Reply
did you solve?
Shii
1.75cm
Ridwan
my name is Abu m.konnek I am a student of a electrical engineer and I want you to help me
Abu
the magnification k = f/(f-d) with focus f = R/2 =16 cm; d =12 cm k = 16/4 =4
Sphere
what do we call velocity
Kings
A weather vane is some sort of directional arrow parallel to the ground that may rotate freely in a horizontal plane. A typical weather vane has a large cross-sectional area perpendicular to the direction the arrow is pointing, like a “One Way” street sign. The purpose of the weather vane is to indicate the direction of the wind. As wind blows pa
Kavita Reply
hi
Godfred
what about the wind vane
Godfred
If a prism is fully imersed in water then the ray of light will normally dispersed or their is any difference?
Anurag Reply
the same behavior thru the prism out or in water bud abbot
Ju
If this will experimented with a hollow(vaccum) prism in water then what will be result ?
Anurag
What was the previous far point of a patient who had laser correction that reduced the power of her eye by 7.00 D, producing a normal distant vision power of 50.0 D for her?
Jaydie Reply
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
Jaydie
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
Jaydie
A young woman with normal distant vision has a 10.0% ability to accommodate (that is, increase) the power of her eyes. What is the closest object she can see clearly?
Jaydie
29/20 ? maybes
Ju
In what ways does physics affect the society both positively or negatively
Princewill Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, College physics for ap® courses. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11844/1.14
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