The concept of degree of polarization surfaces is introduced as an aid to classifying the depolarization properties of Mueller matrices. Degree of polarization surfaces provide a visualization of the dependence of depolarization on incident polarization state. The surfaces result from a non-uniform contraction of the Poincaré sphere corresponding to the depolarization properties encoded in a Mueller matrix. For a given Mueller matrix, the degree of polarization surface is defined by moving each point on the unit Poincaré sphere radially inward until its distance from the origin equals the output state degree of polarization for the corresponding input state. Of the sixteen elements in a Mueller matrix, twelve contribute to the shape of the degree of polarization surface, yielding a complex family of surfaces. The surface shapes associated with the numerator and denominator of the degree of polarization function are analyzed separately. Protrusion of the numerator surface through the denominator surface at any point indicates non-physical Mueller matrices. Degree of polarization maps are plots of the degree of polarization on flat projections of the sphere. These maps reveal depolarization patterns in a manner well suited for quantifying the degree of polarization variations, making degree of polarization surfaces and maps valuable tools for categorizing and classifying the depolarization properties of Mueller matrices.
©2004 Optical Society of America
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