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Is That A Mirage

Is That A Mirage

Credit: Michael Gwyther-Jones
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12587661@N06/2671845245/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

When light rays are bent, producing a displaced image of a distance object, a mirage is formed.

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Credit: Michael Gil
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13907834@N00/5994891327
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Mirages are common while driving on hot sunny days [Figure2]

  • If light is gradually bent along a surface, a mirage is formed. This is gradual bending of light is a result of the index of refraction in a medium gradually changing. This changing index of refraction is possible on hot days when the air near the ground is less dense than the air above it. 
  • Because the speed of light is greater in air that has a lower density, the index of refraction is greater. This causes the air nearest to the ground to travel faster, reaching your eyes sooner. This causes images to look as if they are being reflected off a water surface that is on the ground, creating a mirage.
  • Learn how scientists using mirages to hide objects: http://phys.org/news/2011-10-mirage-effect-video.html

Explore More

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. Cold air is more dense than warm air. Would you expect light to travel faster in colder air or warmer air?
  2. Why do we see the images in mirages being located in the incorrect spot?
  3. In some cartoons, mirages are portrayed as beautiful lakes with palm trees. Why is this incorrect?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Michael Gwyther-Jones; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12587661@N06/2671845245/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Michael Gil; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13907834@N00/5994891327; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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