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Q & A: light reflecting off atoms

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Most recent answer: 01/01/2011
Q:
can an atom reflect a light wave? if not , then why does light reflect after falling on an object? i mean it is also made up of atoms
- dhananjay yadav
india
A:
Sure, light can reflect off an atom. For visible light, the reflection off a single atom is very weak, so it takes a lot of atoms to be very visible. Since an atom is very small compared to the wavelength of visible light, the wave equation requires that the light bounce off with a very broad spread of directions, not at all like reflection from a surface.

For high frequency light (gamma rays) the reflection can be stronger. The famous Compton scattering essentially consists of light bouncing off one electron at a time.

Mike W.

(published on 01/01/2011)

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