Difference WikiPhysics

Difference Between Reflection and Refraction

Main Difference

The main difference between Reflection and Refraction is that Reflection is a phenomenon of rebounding of light beam after hitting a surface, whereas Refraction is a phenomenon in which the light after hitting a surface and passing through the boundary of the two medium changes its direction.

Reflection vs. Refraction

Reflection is a phenomenon in which light beam rebounds after hitting a surface as in case of light or sound waves when it falls on the plane, whereas refraction is a phenomenon in which the light beam changes its direction after hitting a surface as in case of radio waves where it enters medium with different density. In the case of reflection, light beam rebounds after hitting a surface, i.e., come back to the same medium after hitting a surface, however, in case of refraction, the light deviates from its normal path as ray fall on the plane and travels from one medium to another.

ADVERTISEMENT

In reflection, the angle of incidence and angle of reflection is the same, but in the case of refraction, the angle of incidence and angle of reflection are not equal. The mirror images are the reflections; thus, it is sound in the mirrors; however, contact lenses use the phenomenon of refraction. The process of reflection is described by the law of reflection, whereas the law of refraction describes the behavior of light rays for refraction.

In reflection, the light turns back to the same medium, contrary to the refraction where the light travels from one medium to another. Reflected waves bounce off the plane and change their direction, whereas, refracted waves pass through the medium, thus leading to changing angles, their speed, and direction.

ADVERTISEMENT

Comparison Chart

ReflectionRefraction
When the light beam rebounds after hitting a surface, it shows a reflection.The light beam changes its direction after hitting a surface and shows refraction.
Medium
Reflected rays stay at the same medium by bouncing back from the boundary.Refracted rays do not remain in the same medium rather travel to another.
Waves
Waves in this scenario change their direction after bouncing off.Waves pass through the surface, thus changing their speed and direction.
Index
The reflective index of the mirror is found close to 1.The refractive index for waves passing through the vacuum is equal to 1.
Angle of Incidence
The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection as it bounces off.Both angles do not equal each other as waves pass through the surface.
Governing Laws
Law of reflection explains the behavior of reflected rays.The law of refraction explains the behavior of refracted rays.
Occurrence
It occurs in mirrors.It occurs in lenses or eye contact lenses.
ADVERTISEMENT

What is Reflection?

Light waves change their path or their direction as they go through a change by the presence of a medium in their path. These light waves as they hit the surface of the medium can either change their path, which is known as reflection. In reflection, this change is referred to as the bouncing back of these light waves. The angle made by reflected rays will be equal to the angle made by incident rays under conditions as imposed by the law of reflection that it should be a smooth surface. When a perpendicular is drawn on the point of observation, the calculation of the angle of these rays takes place. Unlike mirrors, most of the natural surfaces are rough and thus causing parallel incident lights to reflect in many different directions.

Reflection is a phenomenon in which a light beam rebounds after hitting a surface. The mirror images are known as reflections generally. The beam that hits the surface is known as incident ray, where the ray that leaves the surface is known as a reflected ray. The angle of incidence in the case of reflection from a smooth surface equals the angle of reflection. For example, when a beam strikes a horizontal surface at a half-angle to perpendicular, it bounces back at the same angle at which the incident ray made an angle with the surface, i.e., 45-degree angle same as incident angle. These angles are the same, even with the multiple rays hit the surface and bounce back.

It is a sudden change in the direction of a wave when it hits the boundaries separating the two mediums. Some of the parts do get retained in the medium. The incident rays make an angle of incidence, while reflected rays make an angle of reflection. Specular reflection occurs at smooth and plane boundaries, whereas the reflection that occurs at rough or irregular surfaces is known as diffuse reflection. The smooth surface of a mirror reflects light speculatively while the rough surfaces reflect light diffusely. The reflectivity of surface material is an optical property of a material that describes what fraction of energy of the wave that was reflected by it. The reflective index of the mirror is found close to 1.

What is Refraction?

Refraction is the deviation of waves as they are subjected to pass through different mediums, i.e., one to another. It leads to changes in its speeds at first. These light waves initially refract when they cross the boundary from one transparent medium to another. The change in the speed of light in each medium creates a difference in direction while subjecting to different mediums. The speed of light is different in the glass as it is less in glass than its speed in air.

When waves encounter the boundary of a transparent medium, a portion of the light gets reflected; however, the transmission of the remaining portion takes place into the second medium. This law explains the relationship of an angle that is made by incident rays and refracted rays. The measurement of this angle of refraction and incidence occurs by concerning a perpendicular line. The index for the refraction of light in a vacuum is always 1.

Refraction is a phenomenon in which the light beam changes its direction as it passes through the boundaries of different mediums. These are commonly the images that are seen through the see-through glasses or lens. The beam that hits the surface is known as incident ray where the ray that leaves the surface is known as a refracted ray in the case of refraction, these rays that make the angle. The incident ray makes an angle while entering the surface and refracted ray, making an angle of refraction. These angles are not equal to each other as different mediums participate in this process.

During a refraction, the waves pass through different mediums like plastic, diamond, or glass. During their passage, they face the participation of different objects along with their movement into the objects and thus leading to change in their wavelength or speed. However, the frequency remains the same and constant. It is the process when one visualizes a light beam passing through air space, as soon as it hits the water surface at a particular angle. The speed of this moving light reduces and making its angle steeper.

Key Differences

  1. In the phenomenon of reflection, light beam rebounds after hitting a surface as in case of light or sound waves; on the other hand, refraction is a phenomenon in which the light beam changes its direction after hitting a surface.
  2. Light beam rebounds reflection after hitting a surface as it comes back to the same medium; on the flip side, waves deviate from its normal path in case of refraction as these rays fall on the plane and travel from one medium to another.
  3. Reflected rays have the same angle of incidence and angle of reflection as they bounce back; however, in the case of refraction, theses angle of incidence and reflection are not equal.
  4. In reflection, the light turns back to the same medium; on the contrary, refraction causes the light rays to travel from one medium to another.
  5. The process of reflection is explained by the law of reflection, whereas the law of refraction explains the behavior of light rays for refraction.
  6. Reflected waves bounce off the plane and change their direction only; however, in the case of refracted waves, these waves pass through the medium leading to change in angles, speed, and direction.
  7. The mirror images are reflections, whereas contact lenses use the phenomenon of refraction.

Conclusion

Reflection is a phenomenon in which light beam rebounds and bounces back after hitting a surface causing a change in the direction of these waves, whereas, refraction is a phenomenon in which the light beam instead of changing its direction by bouncing back passes through the medium thus leading to change in angles, speed, and direction.

Harlon Moss

Harlon currently works as a quality moderator and content writer for Difference Wiki. He graduated from the University of California in 2010 with a degree in Computer Science. Follow him on Twitter @HarlonMoss