Focal cloud

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Focal cloud of a reflector (red) compared to an ideal focal point (blue)

A focal cloud is the collection of focal points of any imperfect lens, whether optical, electrostatic or electromagnetic. This includes parabolic antennas and lens-type reflective antennas of all kinds. The effect is analogous to the circle of confusion in photography.

In this focal cloud illustration, a perfect reflector would focus all beams into the blue spot. Due to imperfections of lens construction, the actual signal beams follow the red path to several different focal points, which form the focal cloud. Lens-reflector artifacts, geometry and other imperfections determine the actual radius of the focal cloud.

Satellite dish effects[edit]

A focal cloud can render a satellite dish rather inefficient in relation to its size in specific frequencies. If the imperfections are formed in a way that the phase shifts of reflected waves, at a large portion of the dish, are near 180 degrees between them and the feed horn, this results in self-cancellation of the specific frequency.

For countering the effect, there are several techniques, either in construction of the reflectors or lenses, or in the way signal beams are concentrated. In satellite antennas, scalar rings are used to push the spread signal into the feed horn.