Paraxial approximation

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The error associated with the paraxial approximation. In this plot the cosine is approximated by 1 - θ2/2.

In geometric optics, the paraxial approximation is a small-angle approximation used in Gaussian optics and ray tracing of light through an optical system (such as a lens).[1] [2]

A paraxial ray is a ray which makes a small angle (θ) to the optical axis of the system, and lies close to the axis throughout the system.[1] Generally, this allows three important approximations (for θ in radians) for calculation of the ray's path:[1]

and

The paraxial approximation is used in Gaussian optics and first-order ray tracing.[1] Ray transfer matrix analysis is one method that uses the approximation.

In some cases, the second-order approximation is also called "paraxial". The approximations above for sine and tangent do not change for the "second-order" paraxial approximation (the second term in their Taylor series expansion is zero), while for cosine the second order approximation is

The second-order approximation is accurate within 0.5% for angles under about 10°, but its inaccuracy grows significantly for larger angles.[3]

For larger angles it is often necessary to distinguish between meridional rays, which lie in a plane containing the optical axis, and sagittal rays, which do not.

References

External links