The preceding review of the several errors of reproduction belongs to the Abbe theory of aberrations, in which definite aberrations are discussed separately; it is well suited to practical needs, for in the construction of an optical instrument certain errors are sought to be eliminated, the selection of which is justified by experience. In the mathematical sense, however, this selection is arbitrary; the reproduction of a finite object with a finite aperture entails, in all probability, an infinite number of aberrations. This number is only finite if the object and aperture are assumed to be infinitely small of a certain order; and with each order of infinite smallness, i.e. with each degree of approximation to reality (to finite objects and apertures), a certain number of aberrations is associated. This connection is only supplied by theories which treat aberrations generally and analytically by means of indefinite series.

A ray proceeding from an object point O (fig. 9) can be defined by the coordinates (ξ, η). Of this point O in an object plane I, at right angles to the axis, and two other coordinates (x, y), the point in which the ray intersects the entrance pupil, i.e. the plane II. Similarly the corresponding image ray may be defined by the points (ξ', η'), and (x', y'), in the planes I' and II'. The origins of these four plane coordinate systems may be collinear with the axis of the optical system; and the corresponding axes may be parallel. Each of the four coordinates ξ', η', x', y' are functions of ξ, η, x, y; and if it be assumed that the field of view and the aperture be infinitely small, then ξ, η, x, y are of the same order of infinitesimals; consequently by expanding ξ', η', x', y' in ascending powers of ξ, η, x, y, series are obtained in which it is only necessary to consider the lowest powers. It is readily seen that if the optical system be symmetrical, the origins of the coordinate systems collinear with the optical axis and the corresponding axes parallel, then by changing the signs of ξ, η, x, y, the values ξ', η', x', y' must likewise change their sign, but retain their arithmetical values; this means that the series are restricted to odd powers of the unmarked variables.

The nature of the reproduction consists in the rays proceeding from a point O being united in another point O'; in general, this will not be the case, for ξ', η' vary if ξ, η be constant, but x, y variable. It may be assumed that the planes I' and II' are drawn where the images of the planes I and II are formed by rays near the axis by the ordinary Gaussian rules; and by an extension of these rules, not, however, corresponding to reality, the Gauss image point O'

_{0}, with coordinates ξ'

_{0}, η'

_{0}, of the point O at some distance from the axis could be constructed. Writing Dξ'=ξ'-ξ'

_{0}and Dη'=η'-η'

_{0}, then Dξ' and Dη' are the aberrations belonging to ξ, η and x, y, and are functions of these magnitudes which, when expanded in series, contain only odd powers, for the same reasons as given above.

On account of the aberrations of all rays which pass through O, a patch of light, depending in size on the lowest powers of ξ, η, x, y which the aberrations contain, will be formed in the plane I'. These degrees, named by (J. Petzval (Bericht uber die Ergebnisse einiger dioptrischer Untersuchungen, Buda Pesth, 1843; Akad. Sitzber., Wien, 1857, vols. xxiv. xxvi.) the numerical orders of the image, are consequently only odd powers; the condition for the formation of an image of the mth order is that in the series for Dξ' and Dη' the coefficients of the powers of the 3rd, 5th…(m-2)th degrees must vanish. The images of the Gauss theory being of the third order, the next problem is to obtain an image of 5th order, or to make the coefficients of the powers of 3rd degree zero. This necessitates the satisfying of five equations; in other words, there are five alterations of the 3rd order, the vanishing of which produces an image of the 5th order.

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