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Geometrical optics, or ray optics, is a model of optics that describes light propagation in terms of rays. The ray in geometric optics is an abstraction useful for approximating the paths along which light propagates under certain circumstances.

The simplifying assumptions of geometrical optics include that light rays:

  • propagate in straight-line paths as they travel in a homogeneous medium
  • bend, and in particular circumstances may split in two, at the interface between two dissimilar media
  • follow curved paths in a medium in which the refractive index changes
  • may be absorbed or reflected.

Geometrical optics does not account for certain optical effects such as diffraction and interference. This simplification is useful in practice; it is an excellent approximation when the wavelength is small compared to the size of structures with which the light interacts. The techniques are particularly useful in describing geometrical aspects of imaging, including optical aberrations.

Explanation

As light travels through space, it oscillates in amplitude. In this image, each maximum amplitude crest is marked with a plane to illustrate the wavefront. The ray is the arrow perpendicular to these parallel surfaces.

A light ray is a line or curve that is perpendicular to the light's wavefronts (and

The simplifying assumptions of geometrical optics include that light rays:

Geometrical optics does not account for certain optical effects such as diffraction and interference. This simplification is useful in practice; it is an excellent approximation when the wavelength is small compared to the size of structures with which the light interacts. The techniques are particularly useful in describing geometrical aspects of imaging, including optical aberrations.