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2.1. Methodology and Techniques

2.1.1. Optical dust absorption

The optical polarization observed on Earth of stars located behind dusty molecular clouds is due to dichroic extinction by dust grains aligned by a cloud magnetic field (e.g., Johnson 1982). But the dense cores within a cloud are opaque at optical wavelengths, prohibiting optical polarization observations of background stars, restricting optical polarimetry to the tenuous parts of cloud halos. At optical and near infrared wavelengths, the observed polarization from stars through a cloud halo could be due to various mechanisms. It could be due to a magnetic field via dust absorption, but Goodman (1995) and Goodman et al. (1995) warn that a lack of polarizing grains for optical and near infrared photons in a dark cloud could prevent measurement of the cloud's own magnetic field, when observing background starlight through a cloud. It could be due also to multiple scattering via dust without any effect from a magnetic field (e.g., Bastien and Ménard 1988; 1990) - thus the typical centro-symmetric pattern for the polarization position angle around a bright star gives no information at all about the magnetic field there.

Looking at dust absorption at optical and near infrared wavelengths, one finds that the ratio of the polarization amplitude at 2 different wavelengths varies according to the Serkowski relation with 2 parameters: lambdamax ~ 0.55 µm which is related to the mean size of the polarizing grain, and pmax which is directly related to the extinction along the line of sight, and thus indirectly related to the distance to the star being looked at. In dark clouds, lambdamax ~ 0.75 µm (e.g., Breger et al. 1981).

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