How Does a Mirror Work?


What is a Mirror

  • Mirrors are a familiar object, primarily used to allow a person to see their own reflection. You'll find them hanging in bathrooms and powder rooms, and used to face bedroom closet doors. Framed mirrors can be used as decorating accessories, or hung on walls to enlarge the appearance of a room. Mirrors can be used as shelving, to enhance the aesthetic appeal of a china closet or vanity. In essence, a mirror is a smooth surface that reflects most of the light that hits it, with only a minimal amount of light being absorbed. It is essential that the surface is smooth, because light reflecting off of a rough surface would scatter the light, thus no clear image would appear. One example of this would be to look at a reflection in a silver spoon, which would create a blurred image.

How a Mirror is Made

  • Mirrors are typically made by applying a thin layer of aluminum or silver onto a smooth piece of high quality glass. A polished sheet of metal can also be used as a mirror, providing its surface is exceedingly smooth. There are three basic types of mirrors; plane mirrors, convex mirrors and concave mirrors. A plane mirror is a flat surface. Wall mirrors in bathrooms and hand mirrors are typically plane mirrors. Convex and concave mirrors are opposing sphere-shaped mirrors. Side mirrors on a car would be a convex mirror, while solar ovens use concave mirrors to focus sunlight. Curved mirrors will make the images appear either reduced or enlarged in size.

How a Mirror Works

  • Light is a form of energy, and when it hits a surface, such as a mirror, it is reflected or bounced from the surface. This is similar to a ball bouncing off a wall. The reflected image is comprised of photons, which are particles of light. When these photons initially hit the mirror they cause electrons to vibrate within atoms, which in turn produces an identical light photon. When light strikes a plane mirror, the light is reflected back at an equal angle, yet reversed from right to left. One example of this would be to hold up a piece of paper in front of the mirror, and write a word on the paper by looking not at the paper, but at the reflection of the paper in the mirror. You will discover that when you look at the paper, the word will be written backward.

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