Refractive Index of Water
This is one of a set of almost 40 diagrams exploring Rainbows.
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Refractive Index of Water
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About the diagram
About refractive index
Some key terms
- Refractive index (or, index of refraction) is a measure of how much slower light travels through any given medium than through a vacuum.
- The concept of refractive index applies to the full electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma-rays to radio waves.
- The refractive index of a medium is a numerical value and is represented by the symbol n.
- Because it is a ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in a medium there is no unit for refractive index.
- If the speed of light in a vacuum = 1. Then the ratio is 1:1.
- The refractive index of water is 1.333, meaning that light travels 1.333 times slower in water than in a vacuum. The ratio is therefore 1:1.333.
- As light undergoes refraction its wavelength changes as its speed changes.
- As light undergoes refraction its frequency remains the same.
- The energy transported by light is not affected by refraction or the refractive index of a medium.
- The colour of refracted light perceived by a human observer does not change during refraction because the frequency of light and the amount of energy transported remain the same.
- As light travels from a fast medium such as air to a slow medium such as water it bends toward the normal and slows down.
- As light passes from a slow medium such as diamond to a faster medium such as glass it bends away from the normal and speeds up.
- In a diagram illustrating optical phenomena like refraction or reflection, the normal is a line drawn at right angles to the boundary between two media.
- A fast (optically rare) medium is one that obstructs light less than a slow medium.
- A slow (optically dense) medium is one that obstructs light more than a fast medium.
- The speed at which light travels through a given medium is expressed by its index of refraction.
- If we want to know in which direction light will bend at the boundary between transparent media we need to know:
- Which is the faster, less optically dense (rare) medium with a smaller refractive index?
- Which is the slower, more optically dense medium with the higher refractive index?
- The amount that refraction causes light to change direction, and its path to bend, is dealt with by Snell’s law.
- Snell’s law considers the relationship between the angle of incidence, the angle of refraction and the refractive indices (plural of index) of the media on both sides of the boundary. If three of the four variables are known, then Snell’s law can calculate the fourth.
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