Originally, the Fresnel number was introduced in the context of diffraction theory for beam propagation. If a light wave first passes through an aperture of size (e.g. radius) a and then propagates over a distance L to a screen, the situation is characterized with the Fresnel number
where λ is the wavelength.
For values of the Fresnel number well below 1, Fraunhofer diffraction occurs where the screen essentially shows the far-field diffraction pattern of the aperture, which is closely related to the spatial Fourier transform of the complex amplitude distribution of the light field after the aperture.
Fresnel numbers around 1 or larger characterize the situation of Fresnel diffraction (or near-field diffraction), where the mathematical description is more complicated. For not too large Fresnel numbers and diffraction angles, the Fresnel approximation can be used.
Fresnel Number of a Resonator
where a is now the radius of the end mirrors, and L is the resonator length.
A large Fresnel number (well above 1) of a resonator (cavity) means that diffraction losses at the end mirrors are small for typical mode sizes (i.e. not near a stability limit of the resonator, where mode sizes can diverge). This is the usual situation in a stable laser resonator. Conversely, a small Fresnel number means that diffraction losses can be significant – particularly for higher-order modes, so that diffraction-limited operation may be favored.
The Fresnel number is also important for the analysis of the modes of (plane) Fabry–Pérot interferometers, which extend to the edges of the mirrors.
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|||A. E. Siegman, Lasers, University Science Books, Mill Valley, CA (1986)|