The effects of an irregular refractive index on optical performance are examined. A method was developed to express a lens’s irregular refractive index distribution. An optical system and its mountings were modeled by a thermomechanical finite element (FE) program in the predicted operating temperature range, . FE outputs were elaborated using a MATLAB optimization routine; a nonlinear least squares algorithm was adopted to determine which gradient equation best fit each lens’s refractive index distribution. The obtained gradient data were imported into Zemax for sequential ray-tracing analysis. The root mean square spot diameter, modulation transfer function, and diffraction ensquared energy were computed for an optical system under an irregular refractive index and under thermoelastic deformation. These properties are greatly reduced by the irregular refractive index effect, which is one-third to five-sevenths the size of the thermoelastic deformation effect. Thus, thermal analyses of optical systems should consider not only thermoelastic deformation but also refractive index irregularities caused by inhomogeneous temperature.
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