A CMB Polarization Primer

Wayne Hu & Martin White


We present a pedagogical and phenomenological introduction to the study of cosmic microwave background (CMB) polarization to build intuition about the prospects and challenges facing its detection. Thomson scattering of temperature anisotropies on the last scattering surface generates a linear polarization pattern on the sky that can be simply read off from their quadrupole moments. These in turn correspond directly to the fundamental scalar (compressional), vector (vortical), and tensor (gravitational wave) modes of cosmological perturbations. We explain the origin and phenomenology of the geometric distinction between these patterns in terms of the so-called electric and magnetic parity modes, as well as their correlation with the temperature pattern. By its isolation of the last scattering surface and the various perturbation modes, the polarization provides unique information for the phenomenological reconstruction of the cosmological model. Finally we comment on the comparison of theory with experimental data and prospects for the future detection of CMB polarization.