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Does light follow a helical path ?

  1. Sep 9, 2013 #1
    as the Electric field is perpendicular to magnetic field , would the over all sum of the sinusoidal waves would turn up to be a helical shape ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    It sounds like you are talking about circular polarization. Yes, you can have circular polarized light.
  4. Sep 9, 2013 #3


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    But "circularly polarized" means that the "intensity vector" of the light wave describes a helix around the path of the light. Light does NOT "follow a helical path".
  5. Sep 9, 2013 #4


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    Staff: Mentor


    Those diagrams you see, in which the E and the B field are both sinusoidal curves oriented perpendicular to the direction of movement, can be very confusing. They aren't pictures/illustrations and nothing is moving sideways - they're just graphs that allow you to read off the magnitude and direction of the field at a particular point.

    The light wave (in the simplest case of a plane wave, which is what those diagrams are describing) is a plane wave. If the wave is travelling in the +x direction, then for every point in any plane of constant x (and varying y and z values) at any given time the direction and magnitude of the E field will be the same and will vary sinusoidally over time; and likewise for the B field.
  6. Sep 9, 2013 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, perhaps I was over-interpreting the OP. The polarization describes the orientation of the fields, not the path.
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