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What makes light bend?
- Charls Malone (age 15)
East High, Columbus Ohio
Interactions with matter will change the direction of light, and
sometimes also its frequency. Lenses bend light and this amount of
bending is described by the law of refraction (Snell's law). Mirrors
and other shiny objects change the direction of light that hits them,
and the laws of reflection describe the new path light takes after
bouncing from a mirror. When light travels around an opaque object, the
waves spill around it as water waves spill around rocky islands off of
a beach. Some of the new waves go off in bent directions as compared to
the original direction. This phenomenon is called "diffraction".
Gravitational fields bend the paths taken by light rays on astronomical
scales. Photons, the particles of light, will even bounce off of other
photons, but the rate at which this happens is so low that no one has
been able to measure it yet (very high-energy photons do interact with
each other, though, and that has been investigated).
You can find out about each of these processes on this web site, with detailed explanations of how each process works.
(republished on 07/29/06)
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