Rayleigh scattering

Rayleigh scattering, named after the British physicist Lord Rayleigh, is the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The particles may be individual atoms or molecules. It can occur when light travels through transparent solids and liquids, but is most prominently seen in gases. Rayleigh scattering is a function of the electric polarizability of the particles.

Rayleigh scattering of sunlight in the atmosphere causes diffuse sky radiation, which is the reason for the blue color of the sky and the yellow tone of the sun itself.

Scattering by particles similar to or larger than the wavelength of light is typically treated by the Mie theory, the discrete dipole approximation and other computational techniques. Rayleigh scattering applies to particles that are small with respect to wavelengths of light, and that are optically "soft" (i.e. with a refractive index close to 1). On the other hand, Anomalous Diffraction Theory applies to optically soft but larger particles.