Sunlight Reflects off a Fish in Water


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Sunlight Reflects off a Fish in Water

No! Chromatic dispersion refers to the separation of white light into its component colours. Diffusion takes place when light is scattered in different directions because of impurities in a medium or irregularities on its surface.

About the diagram


Everything we see in the world is a product of reflection. As light travels through the air it is invisible, but when light that has been reflected off the surface of an object enters our eyes it forms an image that light-sensitive cells react to. Let’s take a close look at the basics of reflection.

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The diagram

This diagram shows sunlight being reflected off a fish in water and provides a close-up view of what is happening in another of our diagrams: Refraction, Reflection and Total Internal Reflection.

  • The source for the incident rays is sunlight. It this situation the Sun can be considered to transmit parallel rays of light.
  • If each scale on the fishes skin has an uneven surface and causes the rays to scatter as they are reflected this causes diffuse reflection.
  • Diffuse reflection takes place when light is scattered as it reflects off a rough surface. When reflected light scatters randomly it doesn’t produce a mirror-image.
  • Some kinds of fish scales can appear iridescent. Iridescence is the phenomenon produced by certain surfaces that appear to gradually change colour as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes. Other examples of iridescence include soap bubbles, feathers, butterfly wings and seashells. Iridescence is often created by microstructures that interfere with the path of light rays.

Some key terms

Any material through which an electromagnetic wave propagates (travels) is called a medium (plural media).


About sections (temp)

A light source is a natural or man-made object that emits one or more wavelengths of light.

  • The Sun is the most important light source in our lives and emits every wavelength of light in the visible spectrum.
  • Celestial sources of light include other stars, comets and meteors.
  • Other natural sources of light include lightning, volcanoes and forest fires.
  • There are also bio-luminescent light sources including some species of fish and insects as well as types of bacteria and algae.
  • Man-made light sources of the most simple type include natural tars and resins, wax candles, lamps that burn oil, fats or paraffin and gas lamps.
  • Modern man-made light sources include tungsten light sources. These are a type of incandescent source which means they radiate light when electricity is used to heat a filament inside a glass bulb.
  • Halogen bulbs are more efficient and long-lasting versions of incandescent tungsten lamps and produce a very uniform bright light throughout the bulb’s lifetime.
  • Fluorescent lights are non-incandescent sources of light. They generally work by passing electricity through a glass tube of gas such as mercury, neon, argon or xenon instead of a filament. These lamps are very efficient at emitting visible light, produce less waste heat, and typically last much longer than incandescent lamps.
  • An LED (Light Emitting Diode) is an electroluminescent light source. It produces light by passing an electrical charge across the junction of a semiconductor.
  • Made-made lights can emit a single wavelength, bands of wavelengths or combinations of wavelengths.
  • An LED light typically emits a single colour of light which is composed of a very narrow range of wavelengths.

Scattering takes place when streams of photons (or waves of light) are deflected in different directions.  In this resource, the term is used to refer to the different forms of deviation produced by diffusion, dispersion, interference patterns, reflection and refraction as well as by the composition and surface properties of different media.

Regular scattering
  • When light of a particular wavelength strikes the surface and enters a raindrop its subsequent path depends upon the point of impact, the refractive indices of air and water and the surface properties of the droplet.
  • For incident rays of a single wavelength striking the surface of a single droplet at different points,  it is the different angles at which they enter the droplet that are the chief determinant of the way they scatter as they exit the droplet. In this case.
  • For incident rays of a white light striking the surface of a single droplet at different points, it is the combined effects of the different angles at which they enter the droplet along with the effects of chromatic dispersion (causing the separation of white light into spectral colours) that determine the form of scattering.
  • Chromatic dispersion refers to the way that light, under certain conditions, separates into its component wavelengths and the colours corresponding with each wavelength become visible to a human observer.
  • Regular scattering is not random and obeys the law of reflection and refraction (Snell’s law).
Random scattering
  • In optics, diffusion results from any material that scatters light during transmission or reflection producing softened effects without sharp detail.
  • Objects produce diffuse reflections when light bounces off a rough or uneven surface and scatters in all directions.
  • Transparent and translucent materials transmit diffuse light unless their surfaces are perfectly flat and their interiors are free of foreign material.
  • All objects obey the law of reflection on a microscopic level, but if the irregularities on the surface of an object are larger than the wavelength of light, the light undergoes diffusion.
  • A reflection that is free of the effects of diffusion is called a specular reflection.
  • In the case of raindrops, random scattering can result from:
    • Atmospheric conditions affecting incident sunlight.
    • Turbulence distorting the shape of raindrops.
    • Light being reflected off the surface of multiple raindrops, one after another, before reaching an observer.




About sections (temp)


Reflection takes place when incoming light strikes the surface of a medium, obstructing some wavelengths which bounce back into the medium from which they originated.

Reflection takes place when light is neither absorbed by an opaque medium nor transmitted through a transparent medium.

If the reflecting surface is very smooth, the reflected light is called specular or regular reflection.

Specular reflection occurs when light waves reflect off a smooth surface such as a mirror. The arrangement of the waves remains the same and an image of objects that the light has already encountered become visible to an observer.

Diffuse reflection takes place when light reflects off a rough surface. In this case, scattering takes place and waves are reflected randomly in all directions and so no image is produced.

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