  # Rayleigh Distribution: Definition, Uses, Mean, Variance

## What is the Rayleigh Distribution?

The Rayleigh distribution is a continuous probability distribution named after the English Lord Rayleigh. The distribution is widely used:

• In communications theory, to model multiple paths of dense scattered signals reaching a receiver.
• In the physical sciences to model wind speed, wave heights and sound/light radiation.
• In engineering, to measure the lifetime of an object, where the lifetime depends on the object’s age. For example: resistors, transformers, and capacitors in aircraft radar sets.1
• In medical imaging science, to model noise variance in magnetic resonance imaging.

The Rayleigh distribution is a special case of the Weibull distribution with a scale parameter of 2. When a Rayleigh is set with a shape parameter (σ) of 1, it is equal to a chi square distribution with 2 degrees of freedom.

The notation X Rayleigh(σ) means that the random variable X has a Rayleigh distribution with shape parameter σ. The probability density function (X > 0) is: As the shape parameter increases, the distribution gets wider.

## Variance and Mean (Expected Value) of a Rayleigh Distribution

The expected value (the mean) of a Rayleigh distribution is: How this equation is derived involves solving an integral, using calculus:
The expected value of a probability distribution is:
E(x) = ∫ xf(x)dx.
Substituting in the Rayleigh probability density function, this becomes: This Wolfram calculator will solve the integral for you, giving the Rayleigh expected value of σ √(π/2)

The variance of a Rayleigh dist is derived in a similar way, giving the variance formula of:
Var(x) = σ2((4 – π)/2).

Reference:
A 3-Component Mixture: Properties and Estimation in Bayesian Framework. Aslam et. al. Retrieved October 3, 2015. Available here.

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Statistical concepts explained visually - Includes many concepts such as sample size, hypothesis tests, or logistic regression, explained by Stephanie Glen, founder of StatisticsHowTo.