We investigate the use of diffraction theory as an alternative to solving the full electromagnetic problem of near-forward scattering by a collection of dielectric spheres of arbitrary spacing and orientation. We define an amplitude screen, which is constructed by projecting the shadows of a cluster of spheres onto a plane perpendicular to the wave vector of the incident radio wave. The far-field (Fraunhofer) diffraction pattern of the amplitude screen is then computed and compared with the Mie-theoretic result. We show that for EM scattering from a cluster of electrically large spheres-both singly-sized and belonging to a size distribution-there is excellent agreement between the exact Mie solution and its diffraction theory approximation when near-forward scattering is the angular range of interest. This excellent agreement holds over a broad range of particle separation and orientation configurations relative to the incidence direction. It is also achieved at a much reduced computational cost compared with an exact solution of the electromagnetic interaction problem. Fortified by these results, the authors have applied diffraction theory to the analysis of Cassini radio occultation data, thereby detecting fine-scale structure in Saturn's rings [Thomson, F.S., Marouf, E.A., Tyler, G.L., French, R.G., Rappoport, N.J., 2007. Periodic microstructure in Saturn's rings A and B. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L24203]. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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