Q:

What are reflection and refraction?

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Quick Answer

Reflection and refraction are two of the ways light interacts with matter, with absorption being the third. Reflection occurs when incoming light is bounced off of a surface. Reflection can be either coherent, as it is with a mirror, or incoherent as when light reflects off of a white surface. Refraction entails the slowing and bending of light as it moves through a medium.

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Full Answer

The degree to which a surface reflects light is a measurable quality called albedo. The higher the albedo, the more incoming light the surface is able to reflect. Surfaces with low albedo usually absorb incoming light rather than reflect or refract it.

Refraction occurs as light transitions from one medium, such as air, to another such as glass or water. As they pass through the transparent substance, waves of light slow down or speed up depending on the density of the new medium. The various wavelengths of white light each slow at a different rate, which bends some wavelengths more than others. The result of this is that light passing through droplets of water suspended in a cloud or a glass prism in a laboratory can spread out into its constituent colors and form a rainbow.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    What is the difference between reflection and refraction?

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    The difference between reflection and refraction is that in reflection waves bounce off of a surface while in refraction those waves do not bounce back but pass through the surface, which bends them and changes the speed of the waves. The image of a face is reflected back from a pool of water, but the light on the bottom of the pool of water is refracted because it is uneven and hazy due to the way the water bends the light waves.

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  • Q:

    What is the bending of light called?

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    The bending of light, sound or heat waves is known as refraction. Refraction occurs when a light wave, heat wave or sound wave moves from one medium to another.

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  • Q:

    Why do lights appear to flicker from a distance?

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    The flickering or twinkling effect of lights when observed from a distance is caused by anomalous refraction as light passes through air, schlieren, where temperatures and densities vary. The technical term for this phenomenon is called "scintillation," and it refers to the rapid changes in the position and color of a distant object.

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  • Q:

    Why does a pencil look bent in water?

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    A pencil looks bent in water because of a phenomenon called refraction. When light enters water, it cannot move as fast as it does in air. As light enters water at an angle, it bends away from its original path, and this makes the image look bent.

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