Although interstellar grains are known to be aspherical, their actual shapes remain poorly constrained. We assess whether three continuous distributions of ellipsoids (CDEs) from the literature are suitable for describing the shapes of interstellar grains. Randomly selected shapes from each distribution are shown as illustrations. The often-used Bohren-Huffman CDE includes a very large fraction of extreme shapes: fully 10% of random draws have axial ratio a 3/a 1 > 19.7, and 5% have a 3/a 1 > 33. The CDE2 distribution includes a much smaller fraction of extreme shapes, and appears to be the most realistic. For each of the three CDEs considered, we derive shape-averaged cross sections for extinction and polarization in the Rayleigh limit. Finally, we describe a method for "synthesizing"a dielectric function for an assumed shape or shape distribution if the actual absorption cross sections per grain volume in the Rayleigh limit are known from observations. This synthetic dielectric function predicts the wavelength dependence of polarization, which can then be compared to observations to constrain the grain shape.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science