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Physicists break the Rayleigh limit on resolution

By
Ryan Maass
Physicists in Spain were the first out of four research teams to break Rayleigh's limit. Photo by Martin Paúr/Palacký University
Physicists in Spain were the first out of four research teams to break Rayleigh's limit. Photo by Martin Paúr/Palacký University

MADRID, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- The time-honored Rayleigh's curse has been dispelled in a study researchers say can lead to an overall improvement in various imaging technologies.

Optical systems such as telescopes or cameras have been limited by a phenomenon scientist call the Rayleigh criterion, which refers to the effects light has on attempts to resolve a point in an image. Due to the wave nature of light, points are blurred due to diffraction, effectively limiting the resolution. However, an international research team managed to break this limit in a study published in the journal Optica.

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"Textbook Optics should be reconsidered and Rayleigh's limit shall be placed in a broader context," researcher Sánchez Soto said in a press release. "So far, all our telescopes or microscopes directly observed intensity. Here we propose a scheme that optimizes the information obtainable and can exceed the Rayleigh limit."

Prior to the study, Rayleigh's curse limited the minimum distance that can be distinguished with visible light. In the recent experiment led by Complutense University physicists in Spain, investigators observed images with resolutions up to 17 times lower than previously thought possible.

The research team's findings have been hailed as a breakthrough in optics-related science. Complutense University officials say several companies have already expressed interest in the discovery.

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