# Introduction to reflection and refraction

Essay by trewq, University, Bachelor's, A-, October 2006

1.1 Introduction

This "book" is not intended to be a vast, definitive treatment of everything that is known

about geometric optics. It covers, rather, the geometric optics of first-year students,

whom it will either help or confuse yet further, though I hope the former. The part of

geometric optics that often causes the most difficulty, particularly in getting the right

answer for homework or examination problems, is the vexing matter of sign conventions

in lens and mirror calculations. It seems that no matter how hard we try, we always get

the sign wrong! This aspect will be dealt with in Chapter 2. The present chapter deals

with simpler matters, namely reflection and refraction at a plane surface, except for a

brief foray into the geometry of the rainbow. The rainbow, of course, involves refraction

by a spherical drop. For the calculation of the radius of the bow, only Snell's law is

needed, but some knowledge of physical optics will be needed for a fuller understanding

of some of the material in section 1.7,

which is a little more demanding than the rest of

the chapter.

1.2 Reflection at a Plane Surface

The law of reflection of light is merely that the angle of reflection r is equal to the angle

of incidence r. There is really very little that can be said about this, but I'll try and say

what little need be said.

i. It is customary to measure the angles of incidence and reflection from the normal to

the reflecting surface rather than from the surface itself.

i r

FIGURE I.1

2

ii. Some curmudgeonly professors may ask for the lawS of reflection, and will give you

only half marks if you neglect to add that the incident ray, the reflected ray and the

normal are coplanar.

iii. A plane mirror forms a virtual image of a real object:

or a real image of a virtual object:

FIGURE I.2

• O I °

FIGURE I.3

• I O °

3

iv. It is usually said that the image is as far behind the mirror as the object is in front of

it. In the case of a virtual object (i.e. light converging on the mirror, presumably from

some large lens somewhere to the left) you'd have to say that the image is as far in front

of the mirror as the object is behind it!

v. If the mirror were to move at speed v away from a real object, the virtual image

would move at speed 2v. I'll leave you to think about what happens in the case of a

virtual object.

vi. If the mirror were to rotate through an angle θ (or were to rotate at an angular speed

ω), the reflected ray would rotate through an angle 2θ (or at an angular speed 2ω).

vii. Only smooth, shiny surfaces reflect light as described above. Most surfaces, such

as paper, have minute irregularities on them, which results in light being scattered in

many directions. Various equations have been proposed to describe this sort of

scattering. If the reflecting surface looks equally bright when viewed from all directions,

the surface is said to be a perfectly diffusing Lambert's law surface. Reflection

according to the r = i law of reflection, with the incident ray, the reflected ray and the

normal being coplanar, is called specular reflection (Latin: speculum, a mirror). Most

surfaces are intermediate between specular reflectors and perfectly diffusing surfaces.

This chapter deals exclusively with specular reflection.

viii. The image in a mirror is reversed from left to right, and from back to front, but is

not reversed up and down. Discuss.

ix. If you haven't read Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There, you are

missing something.

1.3 Refraction at a Plane Surface

I was taught Snell's Law of Refraction thus:

When a ray of light enters a denser medium it is refracted towards the normal in such

a manner than the ratio of the sine of the angle of incidence to the sine of the angle of

refraction is constant, this constant being called the refractive index n.

i

r

n

FIGURE I.4

4

This is all right as far as it goes, but we may be able to do better.

i. Remember the curmudgeonly professor who will give you only half marks unless you

also say that the incident ray, the refracted ray and the normal are coplanar.

ii. The equation

,

sin

sin n

r

i = 1.3.1

where n is the refractive index of the medium, is all right as long as the light enters the

medium from a vacuum. The refractive index of air is very little different from unity.

Details on the refractive index of air may be found in my notes on Stellar Atmospheres

(chapter 7, section 7.1) and Celestial Mechanics (subsection11.3.3).

If light is moving from one medium to another, the law of refraction takes the form

. sin sin 2 2 1 1 θ = θ n n 1.3.2

iii. The statement of Snell's law as given above implies, if taken literally, that there is a

one-to-one relation between refractive index and density. There must be a formula

relating refractive index and density. If I tell you the density, you should be able to tell

me the refractive index. And if I tell you the refractive index, you should be able to tell

me the density. If you arrange substances in order of increasing density, this will also be

their order of increasing refractive index.

This is not quite true, and, if you spend a little while looking up densities and refractive

indices of substances in, for example, the CRC Handbook of Physics and Chemistry, you

will find many examples of less dense substances having a higher refractive index than

more dense substances. It is true in a general sense usually that denser substances have

higher indices, but there is no one-to-one correspondence.

In fact light is bent towards the normal in a "denser" medium as a result of its slower

speed in that medium, and indeed the speed v of light in a medium of refractive index n

is given by

, /v c n = 1.3.3

θ1

n2

FIGURE I.5

n1

θ2

5

where c is the speed of light in vacuo. Now the speed of light in a medium is a function

of the electrical permittivity ε and the magnetic permeability µ:

. / 1 εµ = v 1.3.4

The permeability of most nonferromagnetic media is very little different from that of a

vacuum, so the refractive index of a medium is given approximately by

.

0 ε

ε

≈ n 1.3.5

Thus there is a much closer correlation between refractive index and relative permittivity

(dielectric constant) than between refractive index and density. Note, however, that this

is only an approximate relation. In the detailed theory there is a small dependence of the

speed of light and hence refractive index on the frequency (hence wavelength) of the

light. Thus the refractive index is greater for violet light than for red light (violet light is

refracted more violently). The splitting up of white light into its constituent colours by

refraction is called dispersion.

1.4 Real and Apparent Depth

When we look down into a pool of water from above, the pool looks less deep than it

really is. Figure I.6 shows the formation of a virtual image of a point on the bottom of

the pool by refraction at the surface.

h

h'

θ

n

θ'

FIGURE I.6

6

The diameter of the pupil of the human eye is in the range 4 to 7 mm, so, when we are

looking down into a pool (or indeed looking at anything that is not very close to our

eyes), he angles involved are small. Thus in figure I.6 you are asked to imagine that all

the angles are small; actually to draw them small would make for a very cramped

drawing. Since angles are small, I can approximate Snell's law by

θ

θ

tan

' tan n 1.4.1

and hence

.

tan

' tan

' depth apparent

depth real n

h

h =

θ

θ

= = 1.4.2

For water, n is about 3

4 , so that the apparent depth is about ¾ of the real depth.

Exercise. An astronomer places a photographic film, or a CCD, at the primary focus of a

telescope. He then decides to insert a glass filter, of refractive index n and thickness t, in

front of the film (or CCD). In which direction should he move the film or CCD, and by

how much, so that the image remains in focus?

Now if Snell's law really were given by equation 1.4.1, all refracted rays from the object

would, when produced backwards, appear to diverge from a single point, namely the

virtual image. But Snell's law is really ,

sin

' sin

θ

θ

= n so what happens if we do not make

the small angle approximation?

We have

θ

θ

=

tan

' tan

' h

h and, if we apply the trigonometric identity

θ −

θ

= θ

2 sin 1

sin tan

and apply Snell's law, we find that

.

sin 1

cos

' 2 2 θ −

θ

=

n

n

h

h 1.4.3

Exercise. Show that, to first order in θ this becomes h/h' = n.

Equation 1.4.3 shows h' is a function of θ − that the refracted rays, when projected

backwards, do not all appear to come from a single point. In other words, a point object

does not result in a point image. Figure I.7 shows (for n = 1.5 - i.e. glass rather than

water) the backward projections of the refracted rays for θ' = 15, 30, 45, 60 and 75

degrees, together with their envelope or "caustic curve". The "object" is at the bottom

left corner of the frame, and the surface is the upper side of the frame.

7

0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1

-1

-0.9

-0.8

-0.7

-0.6

-0.5

-0.4

-0.3

-0.2

-0.1

0

FIGURE I.6

Exercise (for the mathematically comfortable). Show that the parametric equations for

the caustic curve are

0 tan ' tan = θ − θ − h y x 1.4.4

and . 0 sec ' sec 2 3 = θ + θ h ny 1.4.5

Here, y = 0 is taken to be the refractive surface, and θ and θ' are related by Snell's law.

Thus refraction at a plane interface produces an aberration in the sense that light from a

point object does not diverge from a point image. This type of aberration is somewhat

similar to the type of aberration produced by reflection from a spherical mirror, and to

that extent the aberration could be referred to as "spherical aberration". If a point at the

bottom of a pond is viewed at an angle to the surface, rather than perpendicular to it, a

further aberration called "astigmatism" is produced. If I write a chapter on aberrations,

this will be included there.

I,7

8

1.5 Reflection and Refraction

We have described reflection and refraction, but of course when a ray of light encounters

an interface between two transparent media, a portion of it is reflected and a portion is

refracted, and it is natural to ask, even during an early introduction to the subject, just

what fraction is reflected and what fraction is refracted. The answer to this is quite

complicated, for it takes depends not only on the angle of incidence and on the two

refractive indices, but also on the initial state of polarization of the incident light; it takes

us quite far into electromagnetic theory and is beyond the scope of this chapter, which is

intended to deal largely with just the geometry of reflection and refraction. However,

since it is a natural question to ask, I can give explicit formulas for the fractions that are

reflected and refracted in the case where the incident light in unpolarized.

Figure I.8 shows an incident ray of energy flux density (W m−2 normal to the direction of

propagation) FI arriving at an interface between media of indices n1 and n2. It is

subsequently divided into a reflected ray of flux density FR and a transmitted ray of flux

density FT. The fractions transmitted and reflected (t and r) are

θ + θ

+

θ + θ

θ θ = = 2

1 2 2 1

2

2 2 1 1

2 1 2 1

I

T

) cos cos (

1

) cos cos (

1 cos cos 2

n n n n

n n

F

F t 1.5.1

FIGURE I.8

FI FR

FT

n2

n1 θ1

θ2

9

and

.

cos cos

cos cos

cos cos

cos cos

2

1 2

1 2 2 1

1 2 2 1

2

2 2 1 1

2 2 1 1

I

R

θ + θ

θ − θ

+

θ + θ

θ − θ

= =

n n

n n

n n

n n

F

F r 1.5.2

Here the angles and indices are related through Snell's law, equation 1.3.2. If you have

the energy, show that the sum of these is 1.

Both the transmitted and the reflected rays are partially plane polarized. If the angle of

incidence and the refractive index are such that the transmitted and reflected rays are

perpendicular to each other, the reflected ray is completely plane polarized - but such

details need not trouble us in this chapter.

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90

0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1

FIGURE I.8

r

θ1, degrees

Figure I.9 shows the reflection coefficient as a function of angle of incidence for

unpolarized incident light with n1 = 1.0 and n2 = 1.5 (e.g. glass). Since n2 > n1, we have

external reflection. We see that for angles of incidence less than about 45 degrees, very

little of the light is reflected, but after this the reflection coefficient increases rapidly with

angle of incidence, approaching unity as θ1 → 90o (grazing incidence).

If n1 = 1.5 and n2 = 1.0, we have internal reflection, and the reflection coefficient for this

case is shown in figure I.10. For internal angles of incidence less than about 35o, little

I.9

10

light is reflected, the rest being transmitted. After this, the reflection coefficient increases

rapidly, until the internal angle of incidence θ1 approaches a critical angle C, given by

, sin

1

2

n

n C = 1.5.3

This corresponds to an angle of emergence of 90o. For angles of incidence greater than

this, the light is totally internally reflected. For glass of refractive index 1.5, the critical

angle is 41o.2, so that light is totally internally reflected inside a 45o prism such as is used

in binoculars.

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1

FIGURE I.9

r

θ1, degrees

I.10

11

1.6 Refraction by a Prism

Figure I.11 shows an isosceles prism of angle α, and a ray of light passing through it. I

have drawn just one ray of a single colour. For white light, the colours will be dispersed,

the violet light being deviated by the prism more than the red light. We'll choose a

wavelength such that the refractive index of the prism is n. The deviation D of the light

from its original direction is θ1 − φ1 + θ2 − φ2 . I want to imagine, now, if we keep the

incident ray fixed and rotate the prism, how does the deviation vary with angle of

incidence θ1? By geometry, φ2 = α − φ1, so that the deviation is

. 2 1 α − θ + θ = D 1.6.1

Apply Snell's law at each of the two refracting surfaces:

,

) sin(

sin and

sin

sin

1

2

1

1 n n =

φ − α

θ

=

φ

θ

1.6.2a,b

and eliminate φ1:

. sin cos sin sin sin 1 1

2 2

2 θ α − θ − α = θ n 1.6.3.

Equations 1.6.1 and 1.6.3 enable us to calculate the deviation as a function of the angle of

incidence θ1. The deviation is least when the light traverses the prism symmetrically,

α n

θ1

θ2

φ1

φ2

FIGURE I.11

12

with θ1 = θ2, the light inside the prism then being parallel to the base. Putting θ1 = θ2 in

equation shows that minimum deviation occurs for an angle of incidence given by

. sin

) cos 1 ( 2

sin sin 2

1

1 α =

α +

α

= θ n n 1.6.4

The angle of minimum deviation Dmin is 2θ1 − α, where θ1 is given by equation 1.6.4, and

this leads to the following relation between the refractive index and the angle of

minimum deviation:

.

sin

) ( sin

2

1

min 2

1

α

α +

=

D

n 1.6.5

Of particular interest are prisms with α = 60o and α = 90o. I have drawn, in figure I.12

the deviation versus angle of incidence for 60- and 90-degree prisms, using (for reasons I

shall explain) n = 1.31, which is approximately the refractive index of ice. For the 60o ice

prism, the angle of minimum deviation is 21o.8, and for the 90o ice prism it is 45o.7.

10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

Angle of incidence, degrees

Deviation, degrees

60o

90o

FIGURE I.11

I.12

13

The geometry of refraction by a regular hexagonal prism is similar to refraction by an

equilateral (60o) triangular prism (figure I.13):

When hexagonal ice crystals are present in the atmosphere, sunlight is scattered in all

directions, according to the angles of incidence on the various ice crystals (which may or

may not be oriented randomly). However, the rate of change of the deviation with angle

of incidence is least near minimum deviation; consequently much more light is deviated

by 21o.8 than through other angles. Consequently we see a halo of radius about 22o

around the Sun.

Seen sideways on, a hexagonal crystal is rectangular, and consequently refraction is as if

through a 90o prism (figure I.14):

Again, the rate of change of deviation with angle of incidence is least near minimum

deviation, and consequently we may see another halo, or radius about 46o. For both

FIGURE I.13

FIGURE I.14

14

haloes, the violet is deviated more than the red, and therefore both haloes are tinged

violet on the outside and red on the inside.

1.7 The Rainbow

I do not know the exact shape of a raindrop, but I doubt very much if it is drop-shaped!

Most raindrops will be more or less spherical, especially small drops, because of surface

tension. If large, falling drops are distorted from an exact spherical shape, I imagine that

they are more likely to be flattened to a sort of horizontal pancake shape rather than dropshaped.

Regardless, in the analysis in this section, I shall assume drops are spherical, as I

am sure small drops will be.

We wish to follow a light ray as it enters a spherical drop, is internally reflected, and

finally emerges. See figure I.15.

θ

θ'

θ'

θ

y

θ'

θ'

FIGURE I.15

15

We see a ray of light headed for the drop, which I take to have unit radius, at impact

parameter y. The deviation of the direction of the emergent ray from the direction of the

incident ray is

. ' 4 2 ' ' 2 ' θ − θ + π = θ − θ + θ − π + θ − θ = D 1.7.1

However, we shall be more interested in the angle r = π − D. A ray of light that has

been deviated by D will approach the observer from a direction that makes an angle r

from the centre of the rainbow, which is at the anti-solar point (figure I.16):

We would like to find the deviation D as a function of impact parameter. The angles of

incidence and refraction are related to the impact parameter as follows:

, sin y = θ 1.7.2

, 1 cos 2 y − = θ 1.7.3

, / ' sin n y = θ 1.7.4

and . / 1 cos 2 2 n y − = θ 1.7.5

These, together with equation 1.7.1, give us the deviation as a function of impact

parameter. The deviation goes through a minimum - and r goes through a maximum.

The deviation for a light ray of impact parameter y is

D

Observer •

raindrop

To centre of rainbow

r

From Sun

FIGURE I.16

16

). / ( sin 4 sin 2 1 1 n y y D − − − + π = 1.7.6

This is shown in figure I.17 for n = 1.3439 (blue - λ = 400 nm) and n = 1.3316 (red - λ

= 650 nm).

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1

135

140

145

150

155

160

165

170

175

180

Impact parameter

Deviation, degrees

FIGURE I.16

The angular distance r from the centre of the bow is r = π − D, so that

. sin 2 ) / ( sin 4 1 1 y n y r − − − = 1.7.7

Differentiation gives the maximum value, R, of r - i.e. the radius of the bow - or the

minimum deviation Dmin. We obtain for the radius of the bow

.

3

4 sin 2

3

4 sin 4

2

1

2

2

1 n

n

n R −

= − − 1.7.8

For n = 1.3439 (blue) this is 40o 31' and for n = 1.3316 (red) this is 42o 17'. Thus the

blue is on the inside of the bow, and red on the outside.

For grazing incidence (impact parameter = 1), the deviation is ), / 1 ( sin 4 2 1 n − − π or

' 40 167o for blue or 165o 18' for red. This corresponds to a distance from the center of

the bow , ) / 1 ( sin 4 1 π − = − n r which is ' 20 12o for blue and 14o 42' for red. It will be

I.17

17

seen from figure I.17 that for deviations between Dmin and about 166o there are two

impact parameters that result in the same deviation. The paths of two rays with the same

deviation are shown in figure I.18. One ray is drawn as a full line, the other as a dashed

line. They start with different impact parameters, and take different paths through the

drop, but finish in the same direction. The drawing is done for a deviation of 145o, or 35o

from the bow centre. The two impact parameters are 0.969 and 0.636. When these two

rays are recombined by being brought to a focus on the retina of the eye, they have

satisfied all the conditions for interference, and the result will be brightness or darkness

according as to whether the path difference is an even or an odd number of half

wavelengths.

FIGURE I.18

18

If you look just inside the inner (blue) margin of the bow, you can often clearly see the

interference fringes produced by two rays with the same deviation. I haven't tried, but if

you were to look through a filter that transmits just one colour, these fringes (if they are

bright enough to see) should be well defined. The optical path difference for a given

deviation, or given r, depends on the radius of the drop (and on its refractive index). For

a drop of radius a it is easy to see that the optical path difference is

,) ' cos ' (cos 4 ) cos (cos 2 1 2 1 2 θ − θ − θ − θ n a

where θ1 is the larger of the two angles of incidence. Presumably if you were to measure

the fringe spacing, you could determine the size of the drops. Or, if you were to conduct

a Fourier analysis of the visibility of the fringes, you could determine, at least in

principle, the size distribution of the drops.

Some distance outside the primary rainbow, there is a secondary rainbow, with colours

reversed - i.e. red on the inside, blue on the outside. This is formed by two internal

reflections inside the drop (figure I.19). The deviation of the final emergent ray from the

θ

θ'

FIGURE I.19

19

direction of the incident ray is (θ − θ') + (π − 2θ') + (π − 2θ') + (θ − θ'), or

2π + 2θ − 6θ' counterclockwise, which amounts to D = 6θ' − 2θ clockwise. That is,

( ) . sin 2 / sin 6 1 1 y n y D − − − = 1.7.9

clockwise, and, as before, this corresponds to an angular distance from the centre of the

bow r = π − D. I show in figure I.20 the deviation as a function of impact parameter y.

Notice that D goes through a maximum (and hence r has a minimum value). There is no

light scattered outside the primary bow, and no light scattered inside the secondary bow.

When the full glory of a primary bow and a secondary bow is observed, it will be seen

that the space between the two bows is relatively dark, whereas it is brighter inside the

primary bow and outside the secondary bow.

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

Impact parameter

Deviation, degrees

FIGURE I.18

Differentiation shows that the least value of r, (greatest deviation) corresponding to the

radius of the secondary bow is

.

2

3 sin 2

2

3 sin 6

2

1

2

2

1 n

n

n R −

= − − 1.7.10

For n = 1.3439 (blue) this is 53o 42' and for n = 1.3316 (red) this is 50o 31'. Thus the red

is on the inside of the bow, and blue on the outside.

I.20

20

Problem. In principle a tertiary bow is possible, involving three internal reflections. I

don't know if anyone has observed a tertiary bow, but I am told that the primary bow is

blue on the inside, the secondary bow is red on the inside, and "therefore" the tertiary

bow would be blue on the inside. On the contrary, I assert that the tertiary bow would be

red on the inside. Why is this?

Let us return to the primary bow. The deviation is (equation 1.7.1) D = π + 2θ − 4θ'.

Let's take n = 4/3, which it will be for somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

According to equation 1.7.8, the radius of the bow (R = π − Dmin) is then about 42o.

That is, 2θ' − θ = 21o. If we combine this with Snell's law, ' sin 4 sin 3 θ = θ , we find

that, at minimum deviation (i.e. where the primary bow is), θ = 60o.5 and θ' = 40o.8.

Now, at the point of internal reflection, not all of the light is reflected (because θ' is less

than the critical angle of 36o.9), and it will be seen that the angle between the reflected

ands refracted rays is (180 − 60.6 − 40.8) degrees = 78o.6. Those readers who are

familiar with Brewster's law will understand that when the reflected and transmitted rays

are at right angles to each other, the reflected ray is completely plane polarized. The

angle, as we have seen, is not 90o, but is 78o.6, but this is sufficiently close to the

Brewster condition that the reflected light, while not completely plane polarized, is

strongly polarized. Thus, as can be verified with a polarizing filter, the rainbow is

strongly plane polarized.

I now want to address the question as to how the brightness of the bow varies from centre

to circumference. It is brightest where the slope of the deviation versus impact parameter

curve is least - i.e. at minimum deviation (for the primary bow) or maximum deviation

(for the secondary bow). Indeed the radiance (surface brightness) at a given distance

from the centre of the bow is (among other things) inversely proportional to the slope of

that curve. The situation is complicated a little in that, for deviations between Dmin and

), / 1 ( sin 4 2 1 n − − π (this latter being the deviation for grazing incidence), there are two

impact parameters giving rise to the same deviation, but for deviations greater than that

(i.e. closer to the centre of the bow) only one impact parameter corresponds to a given

deviation.

Let us ask ourselves, for example, how bright is the bow at 35o from the centre (deviation

145o)? The deviation is related to impact parameter by equation 1.7.6. For n = 4/3, we

find that the impact parameters for deviations of 144, 145 and 146 degrees are as follows:

Do y

144 0.6583 and 0.9623

145 0.6366 and 0.9693

146 0.6157 and 0.9736

Figure I.21 shows a raindrop seen from the direction of the approaching photons.

21

Any photons with impact parameters within the two dark annuli will be deviated between

144o and 146o, and will ultimately approach the observer at angular distances between

36o and 34o from the centre. The radiance at a distance of 35o from the centre will be

proportional, among other things, to the sum of the areas of these two annuli.

I have said "among other things". Let us now think about other things. I have drawn

figure I.15 as if all of the light is transmitted as it enters the drop, and then all of it is

internally reflected within the drop, and finally all of it emerges when it leaves the drop.

This is not so, of course. At entrance, at internal reflection and at emergence, some of the

light is reflected and some is transmitted. The fractions that are reflected or transmitted

depend on the angle of incidence, but, for minimum deviation, about 94% is transmitted

on entry to and again at exit from the drop, but only about 6% is internally reflected.

Also, after entry, internal reflection and exit, the percentage of polarization of the ray

increases. The formulas for the reflection and transmission coefficients (Fresnel's

equations) are somewhat complicated (equations 1.5.1 and 1.5.2 are for unpolarized

incident light), but I have followed them through as a function of impact parameter, and

have also taken account of the sizes of the one or two annuli involved for each impact

parameter, and I have consequently calculated the variation of surface brightness for one

colour (n = 4/3) from the centre to the circumference of the bow. I omit the details of the

FIGURE I.21

22

calculations, since this chapter was originally planned as an elementary account of

reflection and transmission, and we seem to have gone a little beyond that, but I show the

results of the calculation in figure I.22. I have not, however, taken account of the

interference phenomena, which can often be clearly seen just within the primary bow.

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Brightness of primary bow

FIGURE I.19

1.8 Problem

I.22

*

FIGURE I.23

ω

v

θ

23

See figure I.23. A ray of light is directed at a glass cube of side a, refractive index n,

eventually to form a spot on a screen beyond the cube. The cube is rotating at an angular

speed ω. Show that, when the angle of incidence is θ, the speed of the spot on the screen

is

θ −

θ + θ

− θ ω = 2 / 3 2 2

4 2

) sin (

sin 2 cos cos

n

n a v

and that the greatest displacement of the spot on the screen from the undisplaced ray is

.

sin

1 1

2 2 2

θ −

− =

n

a D

I refrain from asking what is the maximum speed and for what value of θ does it occur.

However, I ran the equation for the speed on the computer, with n = 1.5, and, if the

formula is right, the speed is ω a 3

1 when θ = 0, and it increases monotonically up to

θ = 45o, which is as far as we can go for a cube. However, if we have a rectangular

glass block, we can increase θ to 90o, at which time the speed is 0.8944 aω. The speed

goes through a maximum of about 0.9843aω when θ = 79o.3. I'd be interested if anyone

can confirm this, and do it analytically.

1.9 Differential Form of Snell's Law

Snell's law in the form n sin θ = constant is useful in calculating how a light ray is bent in

travelling from one medium to another where there is a discrete change of refractive

index. If there is a medium in which the refractive index is changing continuously, a

differential form of Snell's law may be useful. This is obtained simply by differentiation

of n sin θ = constant, to obtain the differential form of Snell's law:

. cot

n

dn d − = θ θ 1.9.1

Let us see how this might be used. Let us suppose, for example, that we have some

medium in which the refractive index diminishes with height y according to

.

y a

a n

= 1.9.2

24

Here a is an arbitrary distance, and I am going to restrict our interest only to heights less

than a - so that n doesn't become infinite! I have chosen equation 1.9.2 only because it

happens to lead to a rather simple result. Let us suppose that we direct a light ray

upwards from the origin in a direction making an angle α with the horizontal, and we

wish to trace the ray through the medium as the refractive index continuously changes.

See figure I.24.

When the height is y, the angle of incidence is θ, and the slope , tan / ψ = dx dy where

. 2 / θ − π = ψ With this and equation 1.9.2, Snell's law takes the form

. tan

y a

dy d

= ψ ψ 1.9.3

On integration, this becomes

. sec constant sec ) ( α = = ψ − a y a 1.9.4

Let . sec and c a y a = α η = − Equation 1.9.4 then becomes

α

θ

ψ

FIGURE I.24

y

x

25

. / sec η = ψ c 1.9.5

But , / / 1 sec tan 2 dx d dx dy η − = = − ψ = ψ so we obtain

.

2 2

η

η −

− =

η c

dx

d 1.9.6

On integration, this becomes

. 2 2 C c x + η − = 1.9.7

We recall that , sec and c a y a = α η = − from which equation 1.9.7 becomes

. 2 tan 2 2 2 C y ay a x + − + α = 1.9.8

Since the ray starts at the origin, it follows that . tan α − = a C The path of the ray,

therefore, is found, after some algebra, to be

, sec ) ( ) tan ( 2 2 2 2 α = − + α + a a y a x 1.9.9

which is a circle, centre , ) , tan ( a a α − radius . sec α a