An optical cavity or optical resonator is an arrangement of mirrors that forms a standing wave cavity resonator for light waves. Optical cavities are a major component of lasers, surrounding the gain medium and providing feedback of the laser light. They are also used in optical parametric oscillators and some interferometers. Light confined in the cavity reflect multiple times producing standing waves for certain resonance frequencies. The standing wave patterns produced are called modes; longitudinal modes differ only in frequency while transverse modes differ for different frequencies and have different intensity patterns across the cross section of the beam.
Different resonator types are distinguished by the focal lengths of the two mirrors and the distance between them. (Flat mirrors are not often used because of the difficulty of aligning them to the needed precision.) The geometry (resonator type) must be chosen so that the beam remains stable (that the size of the beam does not continually grow with multiple reflections). Resonator types are also designed to meet other criteria such as minimum beam waist or having no focal point (and therefore intense light at that point) inside the cavity.
Optical cavities are designed to have a large Q factor; a beam will reflect a very large number of times with little attenuation. Therefore the frequency line width of the beam is very small indeed compared to the frequency of the laser.
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—For the State of New Hampshire, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943)