Difference Between Reflection vs Refraction

Difference Between Reflection vs Refraction

Light is an electromagnetic radiation that enables us to see subjects around us daily. It allows us to perceive objects through sight. Have you pondered how a rainbow appears right after the sky clears from a heavy rain or how things appear to bend when submerged in water? Amazing, right? These are just two of the many things that occur every time light traverses through one type of area to another.

These types of occurrences are the results of two main phenomena that involve light and other objects. Here we discuss reflection vs refraction, exactly how these two phenomena take place, and how varied they are from each other. If you are interested to know more, read on as we provide their definitions, differences or similarities, and some examples as to how they transpire.

Definition of Reflection

Reflection is an occurrence where light rays bounce back into their original medium after hitting another object. It happens when a specific source, either natural or man-made, emits light that strikes a certain object. This helps our eyes to perceive what the object is that we are looking at. There are two primary categories of reflection, which are termed specular or diffuse reflection.

Specular, also termed regular reflection, is what happens when light hits and is reflected at only one angle off a smooth or a lustrous surface. One good example of this is that of a mirror. When we look at man-made mirrors, we usually see ourselves or what is directly in front of the mirror. Bodies of water can also act as natural mirrors, which explains why we see the clouds reflected on a lake or river.

Diffuse reflection, also referred to as irregular reflection, takes place when light bounces and is reflected from several angles like when a ray of light strikes a coarse or uneven object.

Definition of Refraction

Refraction is described as an occurrence where light switches its appearance or route as it hits or traverses through an object or medium. As light hits the surface of a medium, it moves or shifts to another path, making it appear to bend or curve when seen by the eyes.

There are at least three conditions where a beam of light switches its path. The first condition is when it is casted back from a surface, while the second one is when it moves from a translucent medium to another. Finally, the third condition occurs when it is reflected from a field or unit that continually moves or switches its structure.

A difference between refraction vs reflection is that the former can usually be seen when looking at lenses while the latter is observed on mirrors or lustrous metals. Light refracts as it enters and exits concave or convex objects like a lens.

Main Differences Between Reflection vs Refraction

What is the difference between reflection and refraction? We have categorized their properties and definitions and discussed other things you may need to know to help you further understand these two terms and to avoid any confusion or misconception.

Basis of ComparisonReflectionRefraction
DefinitionThe bouncing back of light in the same medium when it strikes or moves onto a surface or objectMotion of light as it runs through a medium or object of varied density
Forming of wavesLight reverts to the same mediumLight travels from one medium to another
Image formationSimilar to reflected objectDistorted
Relativity to the angle of reflectionSimilarNot equal
Usual occurrenceMirrorsLenses
MediumDoes not changeMedium changes

Difference Between Reflection vs Refraction: Conclusion

Isn’t it amusing how with the help of light and everyday objects, we are able to see things differently? When we look at the surface of a lake, we can see the clouds above reflected on it? How about the way things expand every time we peek through a water droplet or the way figures move in a kaleidoscope?

In conclusion, while the difference between reflection and refraction is significant, it is well established that both phenomena let us view and perceive the world in a different light each time we look at it. Whether we look through a mirror, glass, or lens or directly at an object, nothing can change the fact that light is essential to perceive our world through sight.