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Dispersion of electromagnetic radiation by particles with radii less than the wavelength of the radiation. It is named for Baron Rayleigh, who described it in 1871. Since blue light is at the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum, it is scattered in the atmosphere much more than the longer-wavelength red light. This causes the blue colour of the sky, since the observer sees only the scattered light. The Rayleigh laws predict the variation of the intensity and the polarization of scattered light.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Rayleigh scattering, visit Britannica.com.