science concerned with the genesis and propagation of light, the changes that it undergoes and produces, and other phenomena closely associated with it. There are two major branches of optics, physical and geometrical. Physical optics deals primarily with the nature and properties of light itself. Geometrical optics has to do with the principles that govern the image-forming properties of lenses, mirrors, and other devices that make use of light. It also includes optical data processing, which involves the manipulation of the information content of an image formed by coherent optical systems.
Originally, the term optics was used only in relation to the eye and vision. Later, as lenses and other devices for aiding vision began to be developed, these were naturally called optical instruments, and the meaning of the term optics eventually became broadened to cover any application of light, even though the ultimate receiver is not the eye but a physical detector, such as a photographic plate or a television camera. In the 20th century optical methods came to be applied extensively to regions of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum not visible to the eye, such as X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, and microwave radio waves, and to this extent these regions are now often included in the general field of optics.
In the present article the image-forming properties of lenses, mirrors, and other devices that make use of light are considered. The wave and quantum nature of light, its velocity, wavelength, polarization, diffraction, and interference may be found in light. The analysis of light into its component colours by prisms and gratings forms the basis of the extensive field of spectroscopy, the principles of which are discussed in spectroscopy. For information about the reception of light by the retina of the eye and the interpretation of images by the brain, see eye, human.
The optical image:
An optical image may be regarded as the apparent reproduction of an object by a lens or mirror system, employing light as a carrier. An entire image is generally produced simultaneously, as by the lens in a camera, but images may also be generated sequentially by point-by-point scanning, as in a television system or in the radio transmission of pictures across long distances in space. Nevertheless, the final detector of all images is invariably the human eye, and, whatever means is used to transmit and control the light, the final image must either be produced simultaneously or scanned so rapidly that the observer’s persistence of vision will give him the mental impression of a complete image covering a finite field of view. For this to be effective the image must be repeated (as in motion pictures) or scanned (as in television) at least 40 times a second to eliminate flicker or any appearance of intermittency.