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Definition: scattering from The Penguin Dictionary of Science

The change in direction of a moving particle or ➤travelling wave when it interacts with other particles. In elastic scattering, the energy of the incident particle or frequency of the incident wave is unchanged (though there may be a ➤phase shift). In inelastic scattering, some energy is transferred to the scatterer or dissipated as radiation. Scattering can be treated classically, as in ➤Rayleigh scattering and ➤Rutherford scattering. However, a detailed treatment of most scattering requires quantum mechanics. ➤➤Compton effect; Raman effect; Tyndall effect.


Summary Article: scattering
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In physics, the random deviation or reflection of a stream of particles or of a beam of radiation such as light, by the particles in the matter through which it passes.

Alpha particles Alpha particles scattered by a thin gold foil provided the first convincing evidence that atoms had very small, very dense, positive nuclei. From 1906 to 1908 Ernest Rutherford carried out a series of experiments from which he estimated that the closest approach of an alpha particle to a gold nucleus in a head-on collision was about 10−14 m. He concluded that the gold nucleus must be no larger than this. Most of the alpha particles fired at the gold foil passed straight through undeviated; however, a few were scattered in all directions and a very small fraction bounced back towards the source. This result so surprised Rutherford that he is reported to have commented: ‘It was almost as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you’.

Light Light is scattered from a rough surface, such as that of a sheet of paper, by random reflection from the varying angles of each small part of the surface. This is responsible for the matt (non-shiny) appearance of such surfaces and their inability to form images (unlike mirrors). Light is also scattered by particles suspended in a gas or liquid. The red and yellow colours associated with sunrises and sunsets are due to the fact that red light is scattered to a lesser extent than is blue light by dust particles in the atmosphere. When the Sun is low in the sky, its light passes through a thicker, more dusty layer of the atmosphere, and the blue light radiated by it is scattered away, leaving the red sunlight to pass through to the eye of the observer.

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