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Lab Experiments


Dr Jeethendra Kumar P K
KamalJeeth Instrumentation & Service Unit, No-610, TATA Nagar, Bangalore-560 092, INDIA.
Resolving power of a reading telescope is determined using a double slit and a
micrometer adjustable single slit. The double slit placed in front of a white light
source acts like two sources of light. A micrometer slit is used to control the light
reaching the objective of the telescope. As the micrometer slit width is reduced, the
two images of the light sources come closer and merge for a certain slit width. At
this point the diffraction produced due to the two sources of light caused by edges
of the adjustable slit is also seen in the field of view of the telescope. The first
maximum of the diffraction pattern of one of the light sources falls exactly on to
the second minimum of the diffraction pattern due to the second source of light
producing a wide central fringe with reduced intensity in the field of view of the
telescope which has been recorded using a digital camera.

Invention of telescope was an accidental finding by a Dutch spectacle maker Hans
Lippershey and his children in 1608 [1]. Galileo (1609) constructed a real working telescope,
which has been used effectively till now. Invention of telescope gave impetus to research in
Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Magnifying power and the resolving power of the telescope are the two characteristic
parameters of an astronomical telescope. Other than astronomical telescopes there is one
more telescope, called reading telescope, which is frequently used in laboratory for making
measurements. This telescope has magnifying power in the range of 10-15. Mounted on a
stand these telescopes are used to count oscillations of pendulum or string. Using an eyepiece
with scale marked on it measurements of number oscillations can be made.
Reading telescope used in this experiment consists of an objective lens of 25mm dia and 2025cm focal length. A 10X eyepiece is mounted at the end of the telescope tube for
observation. A cross wire is also fixed inside as a reference frame. With this telescope one
cannot make measurements but only qualitative observations can be made. Figure-1 shows an
adjustable slit fixed on the objective of the telescope to control the light input. The amount of
light entering the objective of the telescope can be controlled by opening the slit by fraction
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Lab Experiments
of a millimeter. The width of the slit opening can be measured using a micrometer screw

Resolving Power
Resolving power is the capacity of a telescope to identify two closely spaced sources or
objects. Figure-2 shows two closely placed light sources. As one goes further away, the angle
of observation becomes smaller and the source of light appears to come closer. At one point
of the observation, the two sources merge and form a single source. At this point of
observation, the human eye is not able to distinguish between the two sources or in other
words the eye loose its resolving power.

Figure-1: Adjustable micrometer slit mounted in front of the telescope objective lens
Similarly a telescope after a certain distance from a source or an object is not able resolve or
identify two closely placed sources. The resolving power of the telescope is a measure of this
identification. Since distance is quite difficult to measure, the angles that the two sources
make with the field of view where the image is formed is measured from which the resolving
power of a telescope can be calculated. Worlds largest refractive telescope at Yerkes
Observatory has 14 arc seconds of resolving power. A normal human eye is said to have 47
arc seconds resolution based on size of the pupil. In fact, a human eye cannot resolve objects
that are placed less than 60 arc seconds apart [2].

Resolving Power of a Telescope

When light passes through a narrow slit or small circular hole, it gets diffracted and
interferences fringes are formed [3]. The interference fringe pattern has the central maximum
followed by secondary maxima and minima as shown in Figure-3. Two plano-convex lens
(equivalent to a single double convex lens) illuminated by a rectangular aperture of vertical
dimension, b, is shown in Figure-3. The narrow slit sources S1 and S2 perpendicular to the
plane in Figure-3 form the real images S1 and S2 on a screen. Each image consists of a single
slit diffraction pattern for which the intensity distribution is also shown in Figure-3. The
angular separation of the central maxima is equal to the angular separation of the two sources.
Each principal maximum of the diffraction pattern falls exactly on the second minimum of
the adjacent pattern. As angle is made smaller, the two images move closer to each other,
the intensity between the maxima rises until finally no minimum remains at the centre. The
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Lab Experiments
resultant pattern is shown in Figure-4. At this close distance, the resolution between the two
images is lost. Therefore the minimum angle of resolution [2] is given by

1 = 1.22

is the wavelength of the light used and
D is width of the merged slit images

Light sources


Point of observation-1

Smaller angle of

Point of observation-2

Figure-2: Two light sources and the angle of observation



due S1

due S2

Angle Alpha


due S2

due S2

Angle Alpha

Figure-3: Light passing through small aperture producing a diffraction pattern

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Lab Experiments

Figure-4: Diffraction images of two slit sources (a) and (b) well resolved; (c) just
resolved; (d) not resolved at all
(Picture courtesy Ref-2)

With a given objective in a telescope, the angular size of the image as seen by the eye is
determined by the magnification of the eyepiece. By increasing the magnifying power of the
eyepiece it is not possible to obtain minute details of an object. Hence the resolving power of
the telescope is limited by the diffraction taking place at the edges of the lens of the
telescope. In viewing a distant star the diffraction-taking place at the edges of the objective
lens limits the resolution of the telescope. In this case D is nothing but the diameter or width
of the objective lens.
The resolving power of a reading telescope, if used to view a distant object, is given by

= 1.22
= 22.4x10 6
arc seconds)
1 = 1.22

Radians = 0.00128 degree = 0.077 minute (= 4.62

Which is very small compared to the resolution of the human eye (being about 60 arc

Apparatus used

Figure-5: Experimental setup for measurement of resolving power of a telescope

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Lab Experiments

Experimental set-up of a telescope consisting of white light source on a stand, a resolving

power double slit with about 2mm separation and 2mm width, Reading telescope and
micrometer adjustable slit.

Experimental Procedure
1. The resolving power double slit shown in Figure-6 is mounted on its frame in front of
the lamp as shown in Figure-5 and Figure-7.
2. The reading telescope is placed at a distance of about 1 to 1.5m from the slit along the
line of the lamp.
3. Viewing through the telescope, it is focused on to the slit and the adjustment screw of
the telescope is turned until the images of the two slit openings are observed clearly.
The images seen in the field of view of the eyepiece are shown in Figure-8.

Figure-6: Resolving power double slit and adjustable slit

Figure-7: Resolving power double slit placed in front of the light source

4. Now the micrometer adjustable slit is mounted on to the telescope tube in front of the
objective lens of the telescope as shown in Figure 5.
5. Micrometer slit is kept wide open and again the image of the objective slit is observed
on the field of view of the telescope eyepiece. Two closed placed slit images are
shown in Figure-8.
6. The micrometer screw is rotated so that the slit starts closing. As the width of the
micrometer slit is progressively reduced, the slit images come closer and closer.
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Lab Experiments

Figure-8: Two identifiable slit images

7. Further reducing the micrometer slit width merges the images of the two slits and a
single dull central image is observed as shown in Figure-9. At this position the
micrometer width is noted from the micrometer as under:
MSR =0, VSR=32 divisions

Figure-9: (a) Merging of the two slit images and appearance of the diffraction pattern;
(b) with fully closed slit the field of view becomes dark
8. The width of the micrometer slit is further reduced until the field of view becomes
dark, as shown in Figure-9(b). The reading of the micrometer slit at this portion is
MSR = 0, VSR=3 divisions
9. The difference in the two readings gives the width of the merged slit images as
D = 35-3 divisions = 32divisions = 0.32mm = 0.32x10-3m
10. Resolving power is calculated using equation -1

1 =


560 x10 9 nm
= 1.75x103 radian = 0.100 deg ree = 6 min utes.
0.32 x10

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Lab Experiments

11. The trial is repeated by keeping the telescope at different positions. The readings
obtained are tabulated in Table -1.
Micrometer Slit Reading
and Images
of Width of the
micrometer slit
merged image
merged becomes
(D Divisions)
Average D =32 divisions = 0.32mm
Micrometer slit readings at different positions of the telescope

As the width of the micrometer slit is reduced, the appearance of closely placed straightline fringes due to diffraction taking place at the edges of the micrometer slit is observed
as shown in Figure-9(a). Colored (rainbow colored) straight lines fringes indicate the
loss of resolution. These fringes are formed due to diffraction taking place through the
edges of the micrometer slit. Once the diffraction pattern starts appearing, the resolution
of the telescope diminishes. The telescopes fail to identify closely placed images.

Resolving power of the telescope = 1.75 x 10-3 = radian = 0.1= 6 arc minutes

The reading of the micrometer slit when field of view becomes blank is taken because
of the error of the micrometer slit. In fact, all micrometers have some zero error
similar to a micrometer screw gauge.


Dr. Jeethendra Kumar P.K, Space Explorations; the Foundations, LE Vol-6, No.2, P179


Francis A Jenkins and Harvey E White, Fundamentals of Optics, 4th Edition,

McGraw-Hill, Page 330


Dr. Jeethendra Kumar P.K; Diffraction at the circular apertures, LE Vol 4, No-1,

LE Vol-9, No-2, June-2009