Reflected Ray: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 Reflection of Light
  • 0:36 Law of Reflection
  • 0:58 Diffuse Reflection…
  • 1:52 What Causes Color?
  • 2:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

In this lesson, we will explore how reflected light rays allow us to see images in mirrors and rough objects from all angles. We will also learn how reflected rays cause objects to appear different colors.

Reflection of Light

When you look in a mirror or see sunlight reflecting off the ocean, you are seeing the reflection of light. You are also seeing light reflection when you look at this screen, or your hand, or really anything!

Light reflecting off of objects is what makes them visible to our eyes. Whenever light hits an object, some of it can be absorbed, and some of it can be reflected. The light that is reflected is called a reflected ray, and reflected rays are responsible for creating images in mirrors, showing the color of an object and actually allowing us to see anything at all.

Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection says that light will be reflected back at the same angle that it hits the surface. When you look in a mirror, it appears that the image is actually behind the mirror. Your eyes see the light as if it were coming from a point determined by the law of reflection. The angles mean that the image appears to be exactly the same distance behind the mirror as you stand away from the mirror.

Diffuse Reflection from Rough Surfaces

We expect to see reflected rays when light hits a smooth shiny surface like a mirror, but you may not realize that light is reflected from rough surfaces too. The Law of Reflection applies for all surfaces.

When light reflects off of a rough surface, the angle from which each ray hits the surface is different, so all the light is reflected in all different directions. This is called diffuse reflection. Because the light is reflected in all directions, it allows us to see the object from any angle. Many objects, like grass, concrete, and even people, have rough surfaces that reflect light diffusely.

Sometimes, as when light reflects from the surface of a lake or a shiny car, a combination of these effects takes place. The surface is smooth enough for an image to be formed, but because it is not perfectly smooth, there is some diffuse reflection as well and the image is not perfect.

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