, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 201-246

A Critical review of theoretical models of negatively polarized light scattered by atmosphereless solar system bodies

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Abstract

About a dozen physical mechanisms and models aspire to explain the negative polarization of light scattered by atmosphereless celestial bodies. This is too large a number for the reliable interpretation of observational data. Through a comparative analysis of the models, our main goal is to answer the question: Does any one model have an advantage over the others? Our analysis is based on new laboratory polarimetric and photometric data as well as on theoretical results. We show that the widely used models due to Hopfield and Wolff cannot realistically explain the phase-angle dependence of the degree of polarization observed at small phase angles. The so-called interference or coherent backscattering mechanism is the most promising model. Models based on that mechanism use well-defined physical parameters to explain both negative polarization and the opposition effect. They are supported by laboratory experiments, particularly those showing enhancement of negative polarization with decreasing particle size down to the wavelength of light. According to the interference mechanism, pronounced negative branches of polarization, like those of C-class asteroids, may indicate a high degree of optical inhomogeneity of light-scattering surfaces at small scales. The mechanism also seems appropriate for treating the negative polarization and opposition effects of cometary dust comae, planetary rings, and the zodiacal light.