This paper discusses the process by which images are formed in the near-field optical microscopy of nanoscopic particles localized inside or on the surface of a single-layer dielectric structure. A small dielectric object that scans the surface of the sample constitutes the near-field radiation source and the probe. The model is based on self-consistent integral equations for the electric fields in the system. The electric interaction in the near wave zone is described in terms of the quasi-static approximation. The electric-field distribution is numerically modelled in both the near and far wave zones of the system. It is shown how the layered dielectric environment and the substrate can affect the contrast and form of the images of mesoscopic particles, depending on their dielectric properties. It is demonstrated that the change of the resolution with increasing distance between the probe and the sample surface substantially depends on the method of recording the signal. © 2004 Optical Society of America

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