The limit of resolution of a microscope objective refers to its ability to distinguish between two closely spaced Airy disks in the diffraction pattern (noted in the figure). (c) If they are closer together, they cannot be resolved or distinguished.

If all aberrations and distortions are eliminated from the optical system, this will be the limit to resolution. This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0). Figure 1b shows the diffraction pattern produced by two point light sources that are close to one another. Figure \(\PageIndex{1a}\) shows the effect of passing light through a small circular aperture. This is done for laser light sent to the Moon to measure its distance from the Earth. Diffraction is not only a problem for optical instruments but also for the electromagnetic radiation itself. How far away can you be and still distinguish the two lines? Telescopes are also limited by diffraction, because of the finite diameter D of their primary mirror. One of the consequences of diffraction is that the focal point of a beam has a finite width and intensity distribution. This is usually evaluated in terms of the separation between the maximum of the intensity distribution curve of the diffraction pattern (or Airy's disc) of the images; it is commonly assumed that two points will be resolved if the centre of one pattern falls on the first dark ring of the other.

While this can be used as a spectroscopic tool -- a diffraction grating disperses light according to wavelength, for example, and is used to produce spectra -- diffraction also limits the detail we can obtain in images. Even the small wavelength of light prohibits exact precision. (Figure.1) Its cause could be edema, cells like neutrophils or even early changes of fibrosis in which the underlying pulmonary alteration is below the limit of resolution of the HRCT image. Figure 3. Be aware that the diffraction-like spreading of light is due to the limited diameter of a light beam, not the interaction with an aperture. The resolving power of a lens is defined as that distance x. There, NA is a measure of the maximum acceptance angle at which the fiber will take light and still contain it within the fiber. The Rayleigh criterion stated in the equation [latex]\theta=1.22\frac{\lambda}{D}\\[/latex] gives the smallest possible angle θ between point sources, or the best obtainable resolution. Want to cite, share, or modify this book? Take the pupil diameter to be 0.40 cm. (credit: Tatyana Temirbulatova, Flickr). For a self-luminous object, the spatial frequency cut-off is also 2 NA / λ. The angular diameter of the Airy disk is determined by the aperture of the instrument. The laser beam is sent through the telescope in opposite the normal direction and can then be projected onto a satellite or the Moon. Limit of resolution definition, the capacity of an optical system to resolve point objects as separate images. The ability of a lens to produce sharp images of two closely spaced point objects is called resolution.

However, for long-distance transmission of laser beams or microwave signals, diffraction spreading can be significant (see Figure 27.29).

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