Resolving power (optics)
Jenkins, Francis A. Formerly, Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, California.
Harrison, George R. Formerly, School of Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Chromatic resolving power
- Resolving power of prisms
- Resolving power of gratings
- Resolving power of interferometers
- Resolving power of telescopes
- Resolving power of microscopes
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
A quantitative measure of the ability of an optical instrument to produce separable images. The images to be resolved may differ in position because they represent (1) different points on the object, as in telescopes and microscopes, or (2) images of the same object in light of two different wavelengths, as in prism and grating spectroscopes. For the former class of instruments, the resolving limit is usually quoted as the smallest angular or linear separation of two object points, and for the latter class, as the smallest difference in wavelength or wave number that will produce separate images. Since these quantities are inversely proportional to the power of the instrument to resolve, the term resolving power has generally fallen into disfavor. It is still commonly applied to spectroscopes, however, for which the term chromatic resolving power is used, signifying the ratio of the wavelength itself to the smallest wavelength interval resolved. The figure quoted as the resolving power or resolving limit of an instrument may be the theoretical value that would be obtained if all optical parts were perfect, or it may be the actual value found experimentally. Aberrations of lenses or defects in the ruling of gratings usually cause the actual resolution to fall below the theoretical value, which therefore represents the maximum that could be obtained with the given dimensions of the instrument in question. This maximum is fixed by the wave nature of light and may be calculated for given conditions by diffraction theory. See also: Diffraction; Optical image
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