What is Rayleigh scattering?

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The scattering of light by particles in a medium, without a change in wavelength is called as Rayleigh Scattering.


Rayleigh scattering refers to the scattering of light off of the molecules of the air, and can be extended to scattering from particles up to about a tenth of the wavelength of the light. It is Rayleigh scattering of the molecules of the air which gives us the blue sky.


Rayleigh scattering can be considered to be elastic scattering since the photon energies of the scattered photons is not changed. Scattering in which the scattered photons have either a higher or lower photon energy is called Raman scattering. Usually, this kind of scattering involves exciting some vibrational mode of the molecules, giving a lower scattered photon energy, or scattering off an excited vibrational state of a molecule which adds its vibrational energy to the incident photon.

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