Abstract

The Mueller–Stokes formalism that governs conventional polarization optics is formulated for plane waves, and thus the only qualification one could require of a 4×4 real matrix M in order that it qualify to be the Mueller matrix of some physical system would be that M map Ω(pol), the positive solid light cone of Stokes vectors, into itself. In view of growing current interest in the characterization of partially coherent partially polarized electromagnetic beams, there is a need to extend this formalism to such beams wherein the polarization and spatial dependence are generically inseparably intertwined. This inseparability brings in additional constraints that a pre-Mueller matrix M mapping Ω(pol) into itself needs to meet in order to be an acceptable physical Mueller matrix. These additional constraints are motivated and fully characterized.

© 2010 Optical Society of America

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