Using the starlight polarization efficiency integral to constrain shapes and porosities of interstellar grains

B. T. Draine, Brandon S. Hensley

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17 Scopus citations


We have developed a new method for using the observed starlight polarization and polarized submillimeter emission to constrain the shapes and porosities of interstellar grains. We first present the modified picket-fence approximation and verify that it is sufficiently accurate for modeling starlight polarization. We then introduce the observed starlight polarization integral pobs as a measure of the overall strength of the observed polarization of starlight, and the starlight polarization efficiency integral F to characterize the effectiveness of different grain types for producing polarization of starlight. The ratio pobs/F determines the mass-weighted alignment (falign) of the grains. Approximating the aligned grains in the ISM as spheroids, we use pobs/F to show that the observed starlight polarization constrains the grains to have a minimum degree of asphericity. For porosity p= 0, the minimum axial ratio is ~1.4 for oblate spheroids, or ~1.8 for prolate spheroids. If the grains are porous, more extreme axial ratios are required. The same grains that produce the starlight polarization are able to provide the observed polarized emission at submillimeter wavelengths but with further limits on shape and porosity. Porosities p ?0.75 are ruled out. If interstellar grains can be approximated by "astrodust" spheroids, we predict the ratio of 10 µm polarization to starlight polarization pV: P(10 µm)/pV = 0.219 ± 0.029. For Cyg OB2-12, we predict p(10 µm) = (2.1 ± 0.3)%, which should be observable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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