In electrodynamics, elliptical polarization is the polarization of electromagnetic radiation such that the tip of the electric field vector describes an ellipse in any fixed plane intersecting, and normal to, the direction of propagation. An elliptically polarized wave may be resolved into two linearly polarized waves in phase quadrature, with their polarization planes at right angles to each other. Since the electric field can rotate clockwise or counterclockwise as it propagates, elliptically polarized waves exhibit chirality.
Other forms of polarization, such as circular and linear polarization, can be considered to be special cases of elliptical polarization.
Mathematical description of elliptical polarization
The classical sinusoidal plane wave solution of the electromagnetic wave equation for the electric and magnetic fields is (cgs units)
for the magnetic field, where k is the wavenumber,
is the angular frequency of the wave, and c is the speed of light.
Here is the amplitude of the field and
is the Jones vector in the x-y plane. The axes of the ellipse have lengths and . If αx and αy are equal the wave is linearly polarized. If they differ by the wave is circularly polarized.
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