Reflection is when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, like glass, water or polished metal, the light will reflect at the same angle as it hit the surface. This is called specular reflection.
In the diagram at left, a light ray PO strikes a vertical mirror at point O, and the reflected ray is OQ. By projecting an imaginary line through point O perpendicular to the mirror, known as the normal, we can measure the angle of incidence, θi and the angle of reflection, θr. The law of reflection states that θi = θr, or in other words, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.
In fact, reflection of light may occur whenever light travels from a medium of a given refractive index into a medium with a different refractive index. In the most general case, a certain fraction of the light is reflected from the interface, and the remainder is refracted. Solving Maxwell’s equations for a light ray striking a boundary allows the derivation of the Fresnel equations, which can be used to predict how much of the light is reflected, and how much is refracted in a given situation. This is analogous to the way impedance mismatch in an electric circuit causes reflection of signals. Total internal reflection of light from a denser medium occurs if the angle of incidence is above the critical angle.
Total internal reflection is used as a means of focusing waves that cannot effectively be reflected by common means. X-ray telescopes are constructed by creating a converging “tunnel” for the waves. As the waves interact at low angle with the surface of this tunnel they are reflected toward the focus point (or toward another interaction with the tunnel surface, eventually being directed to the detector at the focus). A conventional reflector would be useless as the X-rays would simply pass through the intended reflector.
When light reflects off a material denser (with higher refractive index) than the external medium, it undergoes a polarity inversion. In contrast, a less dense, lower refractive index material will reflect light in phase. This is an important principle in the field of thin-film optics.
Laws of Reflection
The laws of reflection are as follows:
1. The incident ray, the reflected ray and the normal to the reflection surface at the point of the incidence lie in the same plane.
2. The angle which the incident ray makes with the normal is equal to the angle which the reflected ray makes to the same normal.
3. The reflected ray and the incident ray are on the opposite sides of the normal.