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Polarisation of Transverse Waves

We can classify waves into 2 types:
1. Longitudinal: the thing that is waving is in the same

direction as the velocity of the wave. Examples include sound waves and a wave traveling down a slinky. A Flash animation of a sound wave may be accessed by clicking on the blue button to the right; it will appear in a separate window and has a file size of 30k. You can see that the thing that is waving, the air molecules, are oscillating in the same direction as the wave velocity. 2. Transverse: the thing that is waving is perpendicular to the velocity of the wave. Examples include water waves and waves on a string. It turns out that light is a transverse wave of electric and magnetic fields. A Flash animation of a light wave may be accessed by clicking on the red button to the right; it too will appear in a separate window and has a file size of 120k. You can see that the electric and magnetic fields are perpendicular to each other and to the direction of motion of the wave.

Light generated by. a light bulb is a mixture of all the possible polarisations. the electric field is represented by the red arrows and the magnetic field by the blue arrows. say. The following figures illustrate for the electric and magnetic fields of a light wave. The plane is called the polarisation of the wave. .A moment's reflection will convince you that a transverse wave can have the plane of the oscillation at different orientations. The two polarisations are at right angles to each other. we call such a light wave unpolarised.

however. the oscillations can rotate either towards the right or towards the left in the direction of travel.[1] the description of the wave's polarization is more complicated. the electric field may be oriented in a single direction (linear polarization). the polarization is associated with the . In general the polarization of an electromagnetic (EM) wave is a complex issue. or for radially polarized beams in free space.Polarization is a property of certain types of waves that describes the orientation of their oscillations. so there is no polarization. For instance in a waveguide such as an optical fiber. as the fields can have longitudinal as well as transverse components. Depending on which rotation is present in a given wave it is called the wave's chirality or handedness. Electromagnetic waves. in most cases it propagates as a transverse wave—the polarization is perpendicular to the wave's direction of travel. sound waves can be transverse. By convention. such as light. For longitudinal waves such as sound waves in fluids. and gravitational waves exhibit polarization. the direction of oscillation is by definition along the direction of travel. the polarization of light is described by specifying the orientation of the wave's electric field at a point in space over one period of the oscillation. or it may rotate as the wave travels (circular or elliptical polarization). When light travels in free space. In a solid medium. In the latter cases. acoustic waves (sound waves) in a gas or liquid do not have polarization because the direction of vibration and direction of propagation are the same. In this case. In this case. Such EM waves are either TM or hybrid modes.

If n is the index of refraction of the glass. then the Brewster angle is given by: . 2 beams of light are incident from behind and above onto a slab of glass. then all of the beam closest to you is reflected and all of the other beam is refracted into the glass. a Harvard dropout. The polarisation of the other beam is perpendicular to this. The polarisation of the beam closest to you. Polarisation by Reflection Edwin Land. If the angle of incidence of the beams is at a critical angle.direction of the shear stress in the plane perpendicular to the propagation direction. invented the polaroid filters discussed in the previous section. called the Brewster angle. In the figure to the right. This is important in seismology. This is the situation that is shown. is parallel to the surface of the glass. in 1926. Before then the main way of producing a polarised beam of light was using a property of reflected light which is discussed in this section. as given by the orientation of the shown electric field.

at the hearts of which lie supermassive black holes that can generate enough power to outshine the Sun a trillion times. Quasars are the brilliant cores of remote galaxies. "Astronomers were puzzled by the fact that the most extensively studied models of these disks couldn't quite be reconciled with some of the observations. Thus the lenses tend to filter out reflected glare. To the right we imagine an light wave incident from the left onto a polaroid filter. This has confused astronomers who tried to study the spectrum of the black hole vicinity . If the incident wave is unpolarised. Such black holes and their accretion disks are thought to be in a messy environment surrounded by many clouds of dust. with the fact that these disks did not appear as blue as they s Polaroid Filters Polaroid filters are capable of selecting a particular polarisation state from an incident light wave. By convention the polarisation of a light wave is specified by the orientation of the electric field.the strong emission from these clouds badly contaminates their precious spectrum. . and the orientation is indicated by a red arrow. thought to be sucked into the hole from a surrounding "accretion disk". We call this orientation of the polaroid zero degrees. Good sunglasses include polarisers in their lenses to filter out this polarisation. the reflected ray will still have more of the polarisation parallel to the surface of the glass than the perpendicular polarisation. then one-half of the wave will emerge from the polaroid filter. These mighty power sources are fuelled by interstellar gas.At angles of incidence not equal to the Brewster angle. in particular.

The figures illustrates for an orientation of 45 degrees. Thus one-half of one-half = onequarter of the incident ray emerges from the combination of filters. one-quarter of the incident beam emerges from the combination. if the first filter is oriented at 45 degrees and the second at 90 degrees. In general. if the angles between the 2 filters is then the intensity of the light that emerges from the combination of filters is: This is called Malus' Law. If the first filter is oriented at 0 degrees and the second filter is oriented at 45 degrees. If we place a second filter behind the first with the same orientation. . Similarly.If the incident wave is unpolarised. one-half of the light incident on the second polaroid emerges. the second filter has no effect: one-half of the incident beam emerges from the first filter and all of that beam emerges from the second filter. then the orientation of the polaroid filter doesn't matter: for any orientation of a perfect filter exactly one-half of the incident wave will emerge.

We have just seen that if the 2 filters are oriented at 90 degrees relative to each other. since the 2 polarisations that are being selected by the filters are perpendicular to each other.If we place a second filter behind the first one that is oriented at 90 degrees relative to the first one. if we place a filter oriented at 45 degrees between these 2 polaroids. the second filter stops all of the light incident on it. found a clever way to get around this. This can be viewed as a consequence of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle from Quantum Mechanics. This is also the result predicted by Malus' Law. Since the disk light is scattered in the vicinity of the disk and thus appears polarised. led by Kishimoto. However. This is perhaps expected. they could use the polarised light to separate the disk from the surrounding dust clouds. no light emerges from the second filter. Perhaps surprisingly. . it turns out that some of the light emerges from the 90 degree polaroid. an international team of astronomers. explains Makoto Kishimoto from MPIfR. hould be".

Dr. they used polarising filters at some of the largest telescopes on Earth ." The disk behaviour found in the paper is expected to originate in the outermost region of the disk. Aurore Simonnet (Click image for higher resolution). a fellow investigator. where important questions are yet to be answered: how and where the disk ends and how material is being supplied to the disk. A supermassive black hole in the very center is surrounded by an accretion disk and messy dust clouds. For their observations in the infrared.Sonoma State University. Image: NASA E/PO .one of the 8. our new method may pioneer the way to address these questions". Strong jets radiate perpendicular to the accretion disk. and they could demonstrate that the disk spectrum is as blue as predicted. says Makoto Kishimoto. . Robert Antonucci of the University of California at Santa Barbara. but now at least we are confident of the overall picture. "In the near future. This enabled them to get rid of emission from hot dust outside the accretion disk.2m VLT telescopes at the Paranal observatory of ESO in Chile as well as the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. says: "Our understanding of the physical processes in the disk is still rather poor.Figure 2: Artists's impression of an Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN).

The polarization of light can be measured with a polar meter. . such as optics.Polarization is significant in areas of science and technology dealing with wave propagation. seismology. telecommunications and radar science.