Radio Wave Polarization

For maximum absorption of energy from the electromagnetic fields, the receiving antenna must be located in the plane of radio wave polarization. This places the conductor of the antenna at right angles to the magnetic lines of force moving through the antenna and parallel to the electric lines, causing maximum induction.

Normally, the plane of radio wave polarization is the plane in which the E field propagates with respect to the Earth. If the E field component of the radiated wave travels in a plane perpendicular to the Earth's surface (vertical), the radiation is said to be VERTICALLY POLARIZED, as shown in the figure below, view A. If the E field propagates in a plane parallel to the Earth's surface (horizontal), the radiation is said to be HORIZONTALLY POLARIZED, as shown in view B.

Vertical and horizontal radio wave polarization.

The position of the antenna in space is important because it affects the polarization of the electromagnetic wave. When the transmitting antenna is close to the ground, vertically polarized waves cause a greater signal strength along the Earth's surface. On the other hand, antennas high above the ground should be horizontally polarized to get the greatest possible signal strength to the Earth's surface. Vertically and horizontally polarized antennas will be discussed in more detail in a later tutorial.

The radiated energy from an antenna is in the form of an expanding sphere. Any small section of this sphere is perpendicular to the direction the energy travels and is called a WAVEFRONT. All energy on a wavefront is in phase. Usually all points on the wavefront are at equal distances from the antenna. The farther the wavefront is from the antenna, the less spherical the wave appears. At a considerable distance the wavefront can be considered as a plane surface at a right angle to the direction of propagation.

If you know the directions of the E and H components, you can use the "right-hand rule" (see the next figure) to determine the direction of wave propagation. This rule states that if the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of the right hand are extended so they are mutually perpendicular, the middle finger will point in the direction of wave propagation if the thumb points in the direction of the E field and the forefinger points in the direction of the H field. Since both the E and H fields reverse directions simultaneously, propagation of a particular wavefront is always in the same direction (away from the antenna).

Right-hand rule for propagation.

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