In optics, Fraunhofer diffraction (named after Joseph von Fraunhofer), or far-field diffraction, is a form of wave diffraction that occurs when field waves are passed through an aperture or slit causing only the size of an observed aperture image to change due to the far-field location of observation and the increasingly planar nature of outgoing diffracted waves passing through the aperture.

It is observed at distances beyond the near-field distance of Fresnel diffraction, which affects both the size and shape of the observed aperture image, and occurs only when the Fresnel number F \ll 1, wherein the parallel rays approximation can be applied.

On the other hand, Fresnel diffraction or near-field diffraction is a process of diffraction that occurs when a wave passes through an aperture and diffracts in the near field, causing any diffraction pattern observed to differ in size and shape, depending on the distance between the aperture and the projection. It occurs due to the short distance in which the diffracted waves propagate, which results in a Fresnel number greater than 1 (F > 1). When the distance is increased, outgoing diffracted waves become planar and Fraunhofer diffraction occurs.

Comparison chart

Fraunhofer Diffraction versus Fresnel Diffraction comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartFraunhofer DiffractionFresnel Diffraction
Wave fronts Planar wave fronts Cylindrical wave fronts
Observation distance Observation distance is infinite. In practice, often at focal point of lens. Source of screen at finite distance from the obstacle.
Movement of diffraction pattern Fixed in position Move in a way that directly corresponds with any shift in the object.
Surface of calculation Fraunhofer diffraction patterns on spherical surfaces. Fresnel diffraction patterns on flat surfaces.
Diffraction patterns Shape and intensity of a Fraunhofer diffraction pattern stay constant. Change as we propagate them further ‘downstream’ of the source of scattering.


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