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In optics, the numerical aperture (NA) of an optical system is a dimensionless number that characterizes the range of angles over which the system can accept or emit light. By incorporating index of refraction in its definition, NA has the property that it is constant for a beam as it goes from one material to another, provided there is no refractive power at the interface. The exact definition of the term varies slightly between different areas of optics. Numerical aperture is commonly used in microscopy to describe the acceptance cone of an objective (and hence its light-gathering ability and resolution), and in fiber optics, in which it describes the range of angles within which light that is incident on the fiber will be transmitted along it.

A multi-mode fiber of index n1 with cladding of index n2.

A multi-mode optical fiber will only propagate light

A multi-mode optical fiber will only propagate light that enters the fiber within a certain range of angles, known as the acceptance cone of the fiber. The half-angle of this cone is called the acceptance angle, θmax. For step-index multimode fiber in a given medium, the acceptance angle is determined only by the indices of refraction of the core, the cladding, and the medium: