Types of Polarized Light


Naturally emitting light is most commonly un-polarized, with all planes of its propagation equally probable in all directions. This means that naturally emitted photons of light will radiate equally in all directions if left unhindered. Light is a transverse electromagnetic wave, meaning that its movement consists of oscillations that occur at a right angle to the direction energy is transfered, and it can be channeled to travel in a number of different ways: as linear polarized light; as circularly polarized light; and of elliptically polarized light.

Linear Polarized Light

  • An electronic wave that travels along a plane is classified as linearly polarized light. When it is channeled in this form, the transverse electric field wave that is generated is accompanied by a magnetic field.

Circular Polarized Light

  • A circularly polarized light is formed from two electromagnetic plane waves equal in amplitude, which are perpendicular to each other but differ in phase by 90 degrees. If an observer were to stand at a point so as able to observe the tip of the electric field vector, the light would appear to move in a circle as it approached.

Orientation of Circular Polarized Light

  • If the observer witnesses the polarized light rotating in what seems to be a clockwise direction, then the light is said to be left-circularly polarized. If the light approaches rotating in a counter-clockwise direction, then it is said to be right-circularly polarized. As the light approaches the observer by one wavelength, the electric field vector makes a complete revolution. If the observer’s hand were used as an analogue, the thumb on her right hand would point in the direction of the propagating light, and the electric vector would be rotating in the direction that her fingers pointed.

Elliptical Polarized Light

  • When two perpendicular light waves, which differ in phase by 90 degrees, are of unequal amplitude, they form what is termed elliptically polarized light. If the wave appears to be rotating counter-clockwise when approaching the observer, it is said to be right-elliptically polarized. On the other hand, if the wave appears to be rotating clockwise, it can be termed left-elliptically polarised. If the observer's right thumb points in the direction of the propagating light, then the electric vector would be rotating in the direction of her fingers.

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