How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 361

Why do you think you see water on a road ahead of you when it's not really there?
On a sunny day, heat from the pavement can create a layer of very hot air at the surface of the road. Since hot air is less dense than cold air, its index of refraction is slightly less than that of cold air, too. As light from the sky enters this layer of low-index air, that light is bent. Light from the sky far out in front of you is turned upward so that you see the sky "reflected" from the road's surface (actually bent upward by the air above the road's surface). You interpret this sky light as coming from a pool of water on the road. But as you approach the road and look down at it, you see that the road is dry and black.

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