Abstract

We establish a quantitative theory of circular polarization memory, which is the unexpected persistence of the incident circular polarization state in a strongly scattering medium. Using an asymptotic analysis of the three-dimensional vector radiative transfer equation (VRTE) in the limit of strong scattering, we find that circular polarization memory must occur in a boundary layer near the portion of the boundary on which polarized light is incident. The boundary layer solution satisfies a one-dimensional conservative scattering VRTE. Through a spectral analysis of this boundary layer problem, we introduce the dominant mode, which is the slowest-decaying mode in the boundary layer. To observe circular polarization memory for a particular set of optical parameters, we find that this dominant mode must pass three tests: (1) this dominant mode is given by the largest, discrete eigenvalue of a reduced problem that corresponds to Fourier mode k=0 in the azimuthal angle, and depends only on Stokes parameters U and V; (2) the polarization state of this dominant mode is largely circular polarized so that |V||U|; and (3) the circular polarization of this dominant mode is maintained for all directions so that V is sign-definite. By applying these three tests to numerical calculations for monodisperse distributions of Mie scatterers, we determine the values of the size and relative refractive index when circular polarization memory occurs. In addition, we identify a reduced, scalar-like problem that provides an accurate approximation for the dominant mode when circular polarization memory occurs.

© 2017 Optical Society of America

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