Unpolarized light is essentially polarized light in every direction i.e. there are so many waves radiating, that each wave oscillates in a different direction. Polarized light can either be linear or elliptical. Is light from the sun or a lamp all linearly polarized or could they/are they elliptical? Is most polarization in nature linear?


1 Answer 1


It can either be linear, or elliptical... or any other! There are not just 2 possibilities.

The terms "linear" or "elliptical" refer to the basis that we have chosen. If we choose a linear description, we can be lucky and find a beam which has only one-axis component. That's linear light. However, most beams will have both components, because most light isn't purely "linear".

The same happens if we choose a circular basis. We can be lucky to find a clockwise polarized beam, but that's not very probable actually.

So, going to your final question, most light in nature is randomly polarized. This is often called "incoherent light", and it means that the electric field points in a random direction every single time. There's no way to predict where it will be pointing afterwards.

Since the light from the Sun is like this, this is usually called "natural polarisation". Most lamps also emit this way. You can find some screens where pixels make it linearly polarized, but most of it is random. Notice that most light bulbs are made by fluorescence.

To be precise, the atmosphere adds a small linear component. And there are many lightbubs that emit with a certain polarization. Of course, they will if their glass is a polariser.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification. I find that very odd that the E-field can be random. I'm taking my first optics course so bare with me. All of the E-fields we've looked at solve the wave function. But if an E-field is random, how do we know anything about the wave and how the location of the E-field etc. How could the E-field just randomly move about--there has to be an outside influence, right?. Last question: when does one usually learn about randomly polarized light? Meaning deep learning and not just surface level. $\endgroup$
    – mikanim
    Oct 26, 2018 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Natural polarisation means that the elecric field points in a random direction as it propagates, but the mean intensity is the same, so you actually can calculate most of what you need. Some ways to deal with it is dividing the intensity into the two components. This means, setting 50% in each component. However, there are other more-advanced formalisms that allow you to deal with a component of natural light besides linear components. $\endgroup$
    – FGSUZ
    Oct 27, 2018 at 11:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.