Ray Optics: Reflection, Mirrors, and Kaleidoscopes

  • Thomas D. RossingEmail author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina


By observing shadows and the positions of the light sources and objects that cause the shadows, it is easy to deduce that light normally travels in straight lines.


Glossary of Terms

anamorphosis (anamorphic art)

Artistic use of distorted images that require special mirrors to make them intelligible.

camera obscura

A darkened enclosure having an aperture through which light from external objects enters to form an image of the objects on the opposite surface.

concave surface

A surface curved like the inside of a ball.

convex surface

A surface curved like the outside of a ball.


Reflection of rays from a rough surface. The reflected rays scatter and no image is formed.

focus (focal point)

A point at which incident rays parallel to the axis of a mirror will cross after reflection.


Replica of an object formed by a mirror (or lens).


A device that uses two or more mirrors to form symmetrical, colorful images.

law of reflection

The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Ordinarily, both angles are measured from the normal (perpendicular) to the surface.


The ratio of the size of image to size of object.

plane of incidence

Plane that includes the incident ray and the normal (perpendicular) to the surface.


Change of direction (with reversal of the normal component) at a surface.

specular reflection

Reflection from a polished surface in which parallel rays remain parallel.

virtual image

An image created by the apparent intersection of reflected light rays when they are extended behind the reflecting surface. A virtual image cannot be projected onto a screen.

Further Reading

  1. Ernst, Bruno. (1994). The Magic Mirror of M. C. Escher. New York: Taschen America.Google Scholar
  2. Goldberg, B. (1985). The Mirror and Man. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  3. Hewitt, P. G. (2014). Conceptual Physics, 12th ed. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  4. Kirkpatrick, L. D., & Wheeler, G. F. (1995). Physics: A World View, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. McLaughlin Brothers. (ca. 1900). Magic Mirror. Reprinted by Dover, Mineola, NY, 1979.Google Scholar
  6. Miller, Jonathon. (1998). On Reflection. London: National Gallery of London.Google Scholar
  7. Pendergrast, Mark. (2003). Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  8. Rossing, T. D. (1990). The Science of Sound, 2nd ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  9. Schuyt, M., & Joost, E. (1976). Anamorphoses: Games of Perception and Illusion in Art. New York: Abrams.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Rossing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.New Trier Township High SchoolWinnetkaUSA

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