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Q & A: Light bending

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
What makes light bend?
- Charls Malone (age 15)
East High, Columbus Ohio
A:
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.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

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