How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 332

Does a mirage operate under the same principle as the puddles on a road?
Not exactly. A puddle contains water, which reflects light directly. Light from the blue sky travels toward the puddle and illuminates it. As the light enters the water, with its higher refractive index, part of the light reflects. You see this light when you look at the surface of a puddle. But a mirage involves refraction (bending) of light. As light from the blue sky enters a regions of hot air near the surface, that light bends upward. You again see light from the sky, but bent upward by the air rather than being reflected upward by a surface of water. Since the two appear similar, you interpret the shimmering blue light of a mirage as coming from a pool of water. But it is just hot air.

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