Editorial Feature

An Introduction to Reflection

This article was updated on the 11th September 2019.

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When waves of light (or other forms of electromagnetic radiation) encounter a surface or boundary that does not absorb their energy, the waves bounce away from the surface. This phenomenon is known as reflection.

Two light waves are needed for reflection to occur. These are known as the incident wave and the reflected wave. For example, a ray of light encounters the surface of a polished metal and then bounces back. The approaching light is the incident wave, while the light that bounces back, deflected away from the polished surface, is the reflected wave.

Reflection: On Smooth Surfaces

When waves of light (or other forms of electromagnetic radiation) encounter a surface or boundary that does not absorb their energy, the waves bounce away from the surface. This phenomenon is known as reflection.

Two light waves are needed for reflection to occur. These are known as the incident wave and the reflected wave. For example, a ray of light encounters the surface of a polished metal and then bounces back. The approaching light is the incident wave, while the light that bounces back, deflected away from the polished surface, is the reflected wave.

Reflection: On Rough Surfaces

Reflection can also occur on a rough, non-metallic surface. Reflection from a rough surface is known as diffuse reflection. Irregularities inside the material make a rough surface, and the small bumps on the surface lead to the light rays reflecting in different directions. This is how eyes are able to create images of the physical world, as diffuse reflection from the surface of physical objects sends light to them.

Reflection - Final Note

It is important to remember the difference between reflection and refraction. The light is not being bent (or refracted) into its component colors (wavelengths), and the angles of each wavelength being reflected are equal.

Source: AZoOptics

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