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  • Explain reflection of light from polished and rough surfaces.

Whenever we look into a mirror, or squint at sunlight glinting from a lake, we are seeing a reflection. When you look at this page, too, you are seeing light reflected from it. Large telescopes use reflection to form an image of stars and other astronomical objects.

The law of reflection is illustrated in [link] , which also shows how the angles are measured relative to the perpendicular to the surface at the point where the light ray strikes. We expect to see reflections from smooth surfaces, but [link] illustrates how a rough surface reflects light. Since the light strikes different parts of the surface at different angles, it is reflected in many different directions, or diffused. Diffused light is what allows us to see a sheet of paper from any angle, as illustrated in [link] . Many objects, such as people, clothing, leaves, and walls, have rough surfaces and can be seen from all sides. A mirror, on the other hand, has a smooth surface (compared with the wavelength of light) and reflects light at specific angles, as illustrated in [link] . When the moon reflects from a lake, as shown in [link] , a combination of these effects takes place.

A light ray is incident on a smooth surface and is falling obliquely, making an angle theta i relative to a perpendicular line drawn to the surface at the point where the incident ray strikes. The light ray gets reflected making an angle theta r with the same perpendicular drawn to the surface.
The law of reflection states that the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence— θ r = θ i . The angles are measured relative to the perpendicular to the surface at the point where the ray strikes the surface.
Parallel light rays falling on a rough surface get scattered at different angles.
Light is diffused when it reflects from a rough surface. Here many parallel rays are incident, but they are reflected at many different angles since the surface is rough.
Light from a flashlight falls on a sheet of paper and the light gets reflected at different angles as the surface is rough.
When a sheet of paper is illuminated with many parallel incident rays, it can be seen at many different angles, because its surface is rough and diffuses the light.
A flashlight casting light on a mirror, which is smooth; the mirror reflects light only in one direction at a particular angle.
A mirror illuminated by many parallel rays reflects them in only one direction, since its surface is very smooth. Only the observer at a particular angle will see the reflected light.
A dark night is lit by moonlight. The moonlight is falling on the lake and as it hits, the lake’s shiny surface reflects it. A bright strip of moonlight is seen reflecting from the lake on a dark background reflecting the night sky.
Moonlight is spread out when it is reflected by the lake, since the surface is shiny but uneven. (credit: Diego Torres Silvestre, Flickr)

The law of reflection is very simple: The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.

The law of reflection

The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.

When we see ourselves in a mirror, it appears that our image is actually behind the mirror. This is illustrated in [link] . We see the light coming from a direction determined by the law of reflection. The angles are such that our image is exactly the same distance behind the mirror as we stand away from the mirror. If the mirror is on the wall of a room, the images in it are all behind the mirror, which can make the room seem bigger. Although these mirror images make objects appear to be where they cannot be (like behind a solid wall), the images are not figments of our imagination. Mirror images can be photographed and videotaped by instruments and look just as they do with our eyes (optical instruments themselves). The precise manner in which images are formed by mirrors and lenses will be treated in later sections of this chapter.

A girl stands in front of a mirror and looks into the mirror for her image. The light rays from her feet and head fall on the mirror and get reflected following the law of reflection: the angle of incidence theta is equal to the angle of reflection theta.
Our image in a mirror is behind the mirror. The two rays shown are those that strike the mirror at just the correct angles to be reflected into the eyes of the person. The image appears to be in the direction the rays are coming from when they enter the eyes.

Take-home experiment: law of reflection

Take a piece of paper and shine a flashlight at an angle at the paper, as shown in [link] . Now shine the flashlight at a mirror at an angle. Do your observations confirm the predictions in [link] and [link] ? Shine the flashlight on various surfaces and determine whether the reflected light is diffuse or not. You can choose a shiny metallic lid of a pot or your skin. Using the mirror and flashlight, can you confirm the law of reflection? You will need to draw lines on a piece of paper showing the incident and reflected rays. (This part works even better if you use a laser pencil.)

Section summary

  • The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence.
  • A mirror has a smooth surface and reflects light at specific angles.
  • Light is diffused when it reflects from a rough surface.
  • Mirror images can be photographed and videotaped by instruments.

Conceptual questions

Using the law of reflection, explain how powder takes the shine off of a person’s nose. What is the name of the optical effect?

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Show that when light reflects from two mirrors that meet each other at a right angle, the outgoing ray is parallel to the incoming ray, as illustrated in the following figure.

Two mirrors meet each other at a right angle. An incoming ray of light is reflected by one mirror and then the other, such that the outgoing ray is parallel to the incoming ray.
A corner reflector sends the reflected ray back in a direction parallel to the incident ray, independent of incoming direction.
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Light shows staged with lasers use moving mirrors to swing beams and create colorful effects. Show that a light ray reflected from a mirror changes direction by 2 θ size 12{2f} {} when the mirror is rotated by an angle θ size 12{f} {} .

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A flat mirror is neither converging nor diverging. To prove this, consider two rays originating from the same point and diverging at an angle θ . Show that after striking a plane mirror, the angle between their directions remains θ .

Light rays diverging from a point at an angle theta fall on a mirror at two different places and their reflected rays diverge. When the reflected rays are extended backwards from their points of reflection, they meet at a point behind the mirror, where they diverge from each other at the same angle theta.
A flat mirror neither converges nor diverges light rays. Two rays continue to diverge at the same angle after reflection.
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Questions & Answers

why static friction is greater than Kinetic friction
Ali Reply
draw magnetic field pattern for two wire carrying current in the same direction
Ven Reply
An American traveler in New Zealand carries a transformer to convert New Zealand’s standard 240 V to 120 V so that she can use some small appliances on her trip.
nkombo Reply
What is the ratio of turns in the primary and secondary coils of her transformer?
How electric lines and equipotential surface are mutually perpendicular?
Abid Reply
The potential difference between any two points on the surface is zero that implies È.Ŕ=0, Where R is the distance between two different points &E= Electric field intensity. From which we have cos þ =0, where þ is the angle between the directions of field and distance line, as E andR are zero. Thus
sorry..E and R are non zero...
By how much leeway (both percentage and mass) would you have in the selection of the mass of the object in the previous problem if you did not wish the new period to be greater than 2.01 s or less than 1.99 s?
Elene Reply
what Is linear momentum
Victoria Reply
why no diagrams
Blessing Reply
Describe an experiment to determine short half life
Tyson Reply
what is science
Kenedy Reply
it's a natural phenomena
please can someone help me with explanations of wave
A 20MH coil has a resistance of 50 ohms and us connected in series with a capacitor to a 520MV supply
Musa Reply
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Caya Reply
it is the science which we used in our daily life
Physics is the branch of science that deals with the study of matter and the interactions it undergoes with energy
it is branch of science which deals with study of happening in the human life
A 20MH coil has a resistance of 50 ohms and is connected in series with a capacitor to a 250MV supply if the circuit is to resonate at 100KHZ, Determine 1: the capacitance of the capacitor 2: the working voltage of the circuit, given that pie =3.142
Physics is the branch of science that deals with the study of matter and the interactions it undergoes with energy
Heat is transfered by thermal contact but if it is transfered by conduction or radiation, is it possible to reach in thermal equilibrium?
Eden Reply
Yes, It is possible by conduction if Surface is Adiabatic
Yeah true ilwith d help of Adiabatic
what are the fundamentals qualities
Magret Reply
what is physic3
what is physic
Physics? Is a branch of science dealing with matter in relation to energy.
Physic... Is a purging medicine, which stimulates evacuation of the bowels.
are you asking for qualities or quantities?
give examples of three dimensional frame of reference
Ekwunazor Reply
Yes the Universe itself
Examine different types of shoes, including sports shoes and thongs. In terms of physics, why are the bottom surfaces designed as they are? What differences will dry and wet conditions make for these surfaces?
Lathan Reply
sports shoes are designed in such a way they are gripped well with your feet and their bases have and high friction surfaces, Thong shoes are for comfort, these are easily removed and light weight. these are usually low friction surfaces but in wet conditions they offer greater friction.
thong sleepers are usually used in restrooms.
Practice Key Terms 2

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