Specular reflection


Specular reflection

Specular reflection is the perfect, mirror-like reflection of light (or sometimes other kinds of wave) from a surface, in which light from a single incoming direction (a ray) is reflected into a single outgoing direction. Such behavior is described by the "law of reflection", which states that the direction of incoming light (the incident ray), and the direction of outgoing light reflected (the reflected ray) make the same angle with respect to the surface normal, thus "the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection"; this is commonly stated as heta _i = heta _r. This behavior was first discovered through careful observation and measurement by Hero of Alexandria (c. 1070 AD).Fact|date=August 2008

This is in contrast to diffuse reflection, where incoming light is reflected in a broad range of directions. The most familiar example of the distinction between specular and diffuse reflection would be glossy and matte paints. While both exhibit a combination of specular and diffuse reflection, matte paints have a higher proportion of diffuse reflection and glossy paints have a greater proportion of specular reflection. Very highly polished surfaces, such as high quality mirrors, can exhibit almost perfect specular reflection.

Even when a surface exhibits only specular reflection with no diffuse reflection, not all of the light is necessarily reflected. Some of the light may be absorbed by the materials. Additionally, depending on the type of material behind the surface, some of the light may be transmitted through the surface. For most interfaces between materials, the fraction of the light that is reflected increases with increasing angle of incidence heta _i. If the light is propagating in a material with a higher index of refraction than the material whose surface it strikes, then total internal reflection may occur (if the angle of incidence is greater than a certain critical angle). Specular reflection from a dielectric such as water can affect polarization and at Brewster's angle reflected light is completely linearly polarized parallel to the interface.

The law of reflection arises from diffraction of a plane wave (with small wavelength) on a flat boundary: when the boundary size is much larger than the wavelength then electrons of the boundary are seen oscillating exactly in phase only from one direction—the specular direction. If a mirror becomes very small (comparable to the wavelength), the law of reflection no longer holds and the behaviour of light is more complicated.

Usually, the term specular reflection refers to visible light; however the term is also widely used for other electromagnetic waves. The specular reflection of non-electromagnetic waves follows basically the same laws. Acoustical mirrors—and even atomic mirrors—exist which provide the specular reflection of neutral atoms. For the efficient reflection of atoms from a solid-state mirror, very cold atoms and/or grazing incidence are used in order to provide significant quantum reflection; ridged mirrors are used to enhance the specular reflection of atoms.

The inclusion of specular reflection in dentistry helps improve the aesthetic quality of an inlay, onlay or filling, allowing the appearance of the material 'flowing' in with the natural dentition.

ee also

*Mirror, a device designed for specular reflection
*Atomic mirror, a device for specular reflection of atoms
*Reflection coefficient
*Fresnel equations which describe the behavior of light when moving between media of differing refractive indices.
*Geometric optics


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