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Stray light is any electro-magnetic radiation that is unwanted and interferes with the performance of an optical system’s intended functions. Unwanted stray light can occur in either imaging or projection systems, although it is usually more critical to control the former. Stray light can originate from the object the optical system is capturing or from unintended external emitters, or, in the case of infra-red sensitive systems, it can originate from elements of the system itself emitting light due to their own heat.
Examples of stray light include:
- Light reflections off mechanical mounting surfaces inside the optical system
- Light leaking through a gap in the system enclosure
- Light scattering off dust and other imperfections on the system’s optical surfaces
- For ground-based astronomy, sky glow, caused by the reflection of municipal lights from the atmosphere, can be a major source of stray light
- The Sun, Earth and Moon are common unwanted external sources for an orbiting telescope