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Question

If a spherical mirror is immersed in water, does its focal length change?
Asked by: Amanda

Answer

Mirrors, spherical or otherwise, operate on the principle that the angle of reflection of a ray of light equals the angle at which it strikes the mirror's surface. That behavior is not affected by the medium in which the light travels, so the mirror's focal length would be no different in air or water.

If you had asked about the focal length of a LENS, however, the answer would be different. Lenses work by REFRACTION, not reflection, and the angle of refraction is based on the difference between the speed of light in the lens compared to the surrounding medium. When immersed in water, the difference between light's speed in the lens and the surrounding medium is less than the difference when it's in air, and the focal length of a lens would be greater under water.
Answered by: Paul Walorski, Part Time Physics Instructor


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