ERIC Number: EJ859344
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-May
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 2
Approximation for the Rayleigh Resolution of a Circular Aperture
Mungan, Carl E.
Physics Teacher, v47 n5 p288-289 May 2009
Rayleigh's criterion states that a pair of point sources are barely resolved by an optical instrument when the central maximum of the diffraction pattern due to one source coincides with the first minimum of the pattern of the other source. As derived in standard introductory physics textbooks, the first minimum for a rectangular slit of width "a" is located at angular position [theta] = sin[superscript -1] ([lambda]/"a") for light of wavelength [lambda]. If the angular separation of the two sources is small, we can use the small-angle approximation sin[theta] [approximately equal to] [theta] to conclude that the resolution is [theta][subscript min] = [lambda]/"a" for a rectangular aperture. On the other hand, for a circular aperture of diameter "D", the limiting angle is shown in optics texts to be [theta][subscript min] = 1.22 [lambda]/"D". The derivation of the numerical prefactor of 1.22 involves finding the zero of a Bessel function and is beyond the reach of introductory physics students. Consequently, elementary texts simply pull that prefactor out of thin air. The purpose of the present paper is to briefly explain why we expect a prefactor larger than unity and to make simple estimates of its value, using only algebra.
Descriptors: Optics, Physics, Science Instruction, Textbooks, Light, Introductory Courses, Algebra, Computation
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
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