Astrophysics (index)

Thomson Scattering

(elastic scattering of photons by a charged particle)

Thomson Scattering is a type of scattering of photons by free charged particles (e.g., electrons) in which the outgoing photon has the same Frequency/Wavelength as the incoming photon, i.e., a type of Elastic Scattering. It happens when the photon energy is much less than the mass energy of the particle, and is the low-energy limit of Compton Scattering. It tends to polarize the Electromagnetic Radiation.

In discussion of Radiative Transfer, Thompson scattering and the higher-energy analog, Compton scattering are referred to as Electron Scattering, because an electron's direction is changed, i.e.,it is scattered, and/or because it causes a photon's direction to change, i.e., it scatters the photon.

Thomson scattering is an element in the physics of stars. Similarly, it affected the Cosmic Microwave Background as a polarizing influence when the electron density of the universe was high enough to significantly scatter the photons (i.e., before and during the Epoch of Reionization).


Referenced by:
Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAO)
CMB Polarization
Compton Scattering
Electron Scattering
Thomson Optical Depth