# What is the difference between Compton and Rayleigh scattering?

So compton scattering is where x-rays (or gamma rays) collide with an electron and sends it flying. In the process, the incident photon loses energy and is converted to a lower wavelength.

According to wikipedia, Rayleigh scattering is the scattering of photons by particles which are much smaller than the photons wavelength. In Rayleigh scattering, do photons lose energy and change wavelength in the same way they do in Compton scattering? What would be the fundamental difference(s) between these 2 types of scattering?

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Jano L.
Gold Member
Hello mycotheology,

welcome at PF. Rayleigh scattering of radiation is a scattering of light off particles (atoms, molecules) much smaller than the wavelength of the light. For example, scattering of visible light in the atmosphere. The scattered radiation has the same frequency as the incoming radiation. Rayleigh's theory describes light as electromagnetic wave and no photons are used in the description.

Compton in 20's studied the process when the X-rays are scattered of the electrons in matter. He found that the scattered radiation has different frequency (lower) than the frequency of the incoming radiation. He explained this as an inelastic collision between the electrons and light quanta; light quanta lose some energy in the collision with electrons and go on with lower energy. By the Planck-Einstein relation between the energy of the light quantum and the angular frequency of the corresponding wave
$$E = \hbar \omega$$
the corresponding scattered wave has lower frequency.