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A mirror is an object that reflects light in such a way that, for incident light in some range of wavelengths, the reflected light preserves many or most of the detailed physical characteristics of the original light, called specular reflection.
This is different from other light-reflecting objects that do not preserve much of the original wave signal other than color and diffuse reflected light, such as flat-white paint. The most familiar type of mirror is the plane mirror , which has a flat surface.
Curved mirrors are also used, to produce magnified or diminished images or focus light or simply distort the reflected image. Mirrors are commonly used for personal grooming or admiring oneself where they are also called looking-glasses , for viewing the area behind and on the sides on motor vehicles while driving, for decoration, and architecture.
Mirrors are also used in scientific apparatus such as telescopes and lasers , cameras, and industrial machinery. Most mirrors are designed for visible light ; however, mirrors designed for other wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation are also used. There are many types of glass mirrors, each representing a different manufacturing process and reflection type. An aluminium glass mirror is made of a float glass manufactured using vacuum coating , i. A low aluminium glass mirror is manufactured by coating silver and two layers of protective paint on the back surface of glass.
A low aluminium glass mirror is very clear, light transmissive, smooth, and reflects accurate natural colors. This type of glass is widely used for framing presentations and exhibitions in which a precise color representation of the artwork is truly essential or when the background color of the frame is predominantly white.
A safety glass mirror is made by adhering a special protective film to the back surface of a silver glass mirror, which prevents injuries in case the mirror is broken. This kind of mirror is used for furniture, doors, glass walls, commercial shelves, or public areas. A silkscreen printed glass mirror is produced using inorganic color ink that prints patterns through a special screen onto glass.
Various colors, patterns, and glass shapes are available. Such a glass mirror is durable and more moisture resistant than ordinary printed glass and can serve for over 20 years. This type of glass is widely used for decorative purposes e. A silver glass mirror is an ordinary mirror, coated on its back surface with silver, which produces images by reflection. This kind of glass mirror is produced by coating a silver, copper film and two or more layers of waterproof paint on the back surface of float glass, which perfectly resists acid and moisture.
A silver glass mirror provides clear and actual images, is quite durable, and is widely used for furniture, bathroom and other decorative purposes. Decorative glass mirrors are usually handcrafted. A variety of shades, shapes and glass thickness are often available. A beam of light reflects off a mirror at an angle of reflection equal to its angle of incidence if the size of a mirror is much larger than the wavelength of light.
This law mathematically follows from the interference of a plane wave on a flat boundary of much larger size than the wavelength. Objects viewed in a plane mirror will appear laterally inverted e. To be precise, it reverses the object in the direction perpendicular to the mirror surface the normal.
Because left and right are defined relative to front-back and top-bottom, the "flipping" of front and back results in the perception of a left-right reversal in the image. If you stand side-on to a mirror, the mirror really does reverse your left and right, because that's the direction perpendicular to the mirror. Looking at an image of oneself with the front-back axis flipped results in the perception of an image with its left-right axis flipped.
When reflected in the mirror, your right hand remains directly opposite your real right hand, but it is perceived as the left hand of your image. When a person looks into a mirror, the image is actually front-back reversed, which is an effect similar to the hollow-mask illusion. Notice that a mirror image is fundamentally different from the object and cannot be reproduced by simply rotating the object. For things that may be considered as two-dimensional objects like text , front-back reversal cannot usually explain the observed reversal.
In the same way that text on a piece of paper appears reversed if held up to a light and viewed from behind, text held facing a mirror will appear reversed, because the observer is behind the text. Another way to understand the reversals observed in images of objects that are effectively two-dimensional is that the inversion of left and right in a mirror is due to the way human beings turn their bodies. To turn from viewing the side of the object facing the mirror to view the reflection in the mirror requires the observer to look in the opposite direction.
To look in another direction, human beings turn their heads about a vertical axis. This causes a left-right reversal in the image but not an up-down reversal. This sort of reversal is simply a change relative to the observer and not a change intrinsic to the image itself, as with a three-dimensional object.
The first mirrors used by humans were most likely pools of dark, still water, or water collected in a primitive vessel of some sort. The requirements for making a good mirror are a surface with a very high degree of flatness preferably but not necessarily with high reflectivity , and a surface roughness smaller than the wavelength of the light.
The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished stone such as obsidian , a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Examples of obsidian mirrors found in Anatolia modern-day Turkey have been dated to around B. Mirrors made of other metal mixtures alloys such as copper and tin speculum metal may have also been produced in China and India. Stone mirrors often had poor reflectivity compared to metals, yet metals scratch or tarnish easily, so they frequently needed polishing.
Depending upon the color, both often yielded reflections with poor color rendering. In her history of the mirror, Sabine Melchior-Bonnet draws significant attention to the relation of the mirror to Greek philosophy, specifically Socrates:. If well used, however, the mirror can aid moral meditation between man and himself. Socrates, we are told by Diogenes , urged young people to look at themselves in mirrors so that, if they were beautiful, they would become worthy of their beauty, and if they were ugly, they would know how to hide their disgrace through learning.
The mirror, a tool by which to " know thyself ," invited man to not mistake himself for God, to avoid pride by knowing his limits, and to improve himself. His was thus not a passive mirror of imitation but an active mirror of transformation. Glass was a desirable material for mirrors. Because the surface of glass is naturally smooth, it produces reflections with very little blur.
In addition, glass is very hard and scratch-resistant. However, glass by itself has little reflectivity, so people began coating it with metals to increase the reflectivity.
Metal-coated glass mirrors are said by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder to have been invented in Sidon modern-day Lebanon in the first century A. These circular mirrors were typically small, from five to eight inches cm in diameter. These ancient glass mirrors were very thin, thus very fragile, because the glass needed to be extremely thin to prevent cracking when coated with a hot, molten metal.
Due to the poor quality, high cost, and small size of these ancient glass mirrors, solid metal-mirrors primarily of steel were usually preferred until the late nineteenth century.
Parabolic mirrors were described and studied in classical antiquity by the mathematician Diocles in his work On Burning Mirrors. In China, people began making mirrors by coating metallic objects with silver-mercury amalgams as early as A. This was accomplished by coating the mirror with the amalgam, and then heating it until the mercury boiled away, leaving only the silver behind. The problems of making metal-coated, glass mirrors was due to the difficulties in making glass that was very clear, as most ancient glass was tinted green with iron.
This was overcome when people began mixing soda , limestone , potash , manganese , and fern ashes with the glass. There was also no way for the ancients to make flat panes of glass with uniform thicknesses. The earliest methods for producing glass panes began in France, when people began blowing glass bubbles, and then spinning them rapidly to flatten them out into plates from which pieces could be cut. However, these pieces were still not uniform in thickness, so produced distorted images as well.
A better method was to blow a cylinder of glass, cut off the ends, slice it down the center, and unroll it onto a flat hearth. This method produced the first mirror-quality glass panes, but it was very difficult and resulted in a lot of breakage.
Even windows were primarily made of oiled paper or stained glass , until the mid-nineteenth century, due to the high cost of making clear, flat panes of glass. The method of making flat panes of clear glass from blown cylinders began in Germany and evolved through the Middle Ages, until being perfected by the Venetians in the sixteenth century.
The Venetians began using lead glass for its crystal-clarity and its easier workability. Some time during the early Renaissance , European manufacturers perfected a superior method of coating glass with a tin-mercury amalgam, producing an amorphous coating with better reflectivity than crystalline metals and causing little thermal shock to the glass.
Glass mirrors from this period were extremely expensive luxuries. The invention of the silvered-glass mirror is credited to German chemist Justus von Liebig in This silvering process was adapted for mass manufacturing and led to the greater availability of affordable mirrors.
In the modern age, mirrors are often produced by the wet deposition of silver, or sometimes nickel or chromium the latter used most often in automotive mirrors via electroplating directly onto the glass substrate.
Vacuum deposition began with the study of the sputtering phenomenon during the s and s, which was a common problem in lighting in which metal ejected from the electrodes coated the glass, blocking output.
However, turning sputtering into a reliable method of coating a mirror did not occur until the invention of semiconductors in the s. Evaporation coating was pioneered by John Strong in Aluminum was a desirable material for mirrors, but was too dangerous to apply with electroplating.
Strong used evaporation coating to make the first aluminum telescope mirrors in the s. In at the Schott Glass company, Walter Geffcken invented the first dielectric mirrors to use multilayer coatings stacks.
Mirrors are manufactured by applying a reflective coating to a suitable substrate. The reflective coating is typically applied to the back surface of the glass, so that the reflecting side of the coating is protected from corrosion and accidental damage by the glass on one side and the coating itself and optional paint for further protection on the other. In classical antiquity, mirrors were made of solid metal bronze, later silver  and were too expensive for widespread use by common people; they were also prone to corrosion.
Due to the low reflectivity of polished metal, these mirrors also gave a darker image than modern ones, making them unsuitable for indoor use with the artificial lighting of the time candles or lanterns. The method of making mirrors out of plate glass was invented by 13th-century Venetian glassmakers on the island of Murano , who covered the back of the glass with an amorphous coat of tin using a fire-gilding technique, obtaining near-perfect and undistorted reflection.
For over one hundred years, Venetian mirrors installed in richly decorated frames served as luxury decorations for palaces throughout Europe, but the secret of the mercury process eventually arrived in London and Paris during the 17th century, due to industrial espionage.
French workshops succeeded in large-scale industrialization of the process, eventually making mirrors affordable to the masses, although mercury's toxicity a primary ingredient in gilding, which was boiled away forming noxious vapors remained a problem. In modern times, the mirror substrate is shaped, polished and cleaned, and is then coated.
Glass mirrors are most often coated with silver  or aluminium,  implemented by a series of coatings: The tin II chloride is applied because silver will not bond with the glass. Copper is added for long-term durability. In some applications, generally those that are cost-sensitive or that require great durability, such as for mounting in a prison cell, mirrors may be made from a single, bulk material such as polished metal.
However, metals consist of small crystals grains separated by grain boundaries. Thus, crystalline metals do not reflect with perfect uniformity.
Lacking any grain boundaries, the amorphous coatings have higher reflectivity than crystalline metals of the same type.
Like limestone stalactites, they can leave lava drips on the floor that turn into lava stalagmites and may eventually fuse with the corresponding stalactite to form a column. Shark tooth stalactites The shark tooth stalactite is broad and tapering in appearance. It may begin as a small driblet of lava from a semi-solid ceiling, but then grows by accreting layers as successive flows of lava rise and fall in the lava tube, coating and recoating the stalactite with more material.
They can vary from a few millimeters to over a meter in length. Splash stalactites As lava flows through a tube, material will be splashed up on the ceiling and ooze back down, hardening into a stalactite. This type of formation results in a very irregularly shaped stalactite, looking somewhat like stretched taffy. Often they may be of a different color than the original lava that formed the cave. Tubular lava stalactites When the roof of a lava tube is cooling, a skin will form that traps semi-molten material inside.
Trapped gases force lava to extrude out through small openings that result in hollow, tubular stalactites analogous to the soda straws formed as depositional speleothems in solution caves, The longest known is almost 2 meters in length.
These are common in Hawaiian lava tubes and are often associated with a drip stalagmite that forms below as material is carried through the tubular stalactite and piles up on the floor beneath. Sometimes the tubular form collapses near the distal end, most likely when the pressure of escaping gases decreased and still-molten portions of the stalactites deflated and cooled.
Often these tubular stalactites will acquire a twisted, vermiform appearance as bits of lava crystallize and force the flow in different directions. These tubular lava helictites may also be influenced by air currents through a tube and point downwind.
A common stalactite found seasonally or year round in many caves is the ice stalactite, commonly referred to as icicles , especially on the surface. Creation may also be done by the freezing of water vapor. Unlike lava stalactites however, they may grow back as long as water and temperatures are suitable.
Ice stalactites can also form under sea ice when saline water is introduced to ocean water. These specific stalactites are referred to as brinicles. Ice stalactites may also form corresponding stalagmites below them and given time may grow together to form an ice column. Stalactites can also form on concrete , and on plumbing where there is a slow leak and calcium, magnesium or other ions in the water supply, although they form much more rapidly there than in the natural cave environment.
These secondary deposits, such as stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and others, which are derived from the lime, mortar or other calcareous material in concrete, outside of the "cave" environment, can not be classified as " speleothems " due to the definition of the term. The way stalactites form on concrete is due to different chemistry than those that form naturally in limestone caves and is due of the presence of calcium oxide in cement.
Concrete is made from aggregate, sand and cement. When water is added to the mix, the calcium oxide in the cement reacts with water to form calcium hydroxide Ca OH 2. The chemical formula for this is: Over time, any rainwater that penetrates cracks in set hard concrete will carry any free calcium hydroxide in solution to the edge of the concrete.
Stalactites can form when the solution emerges on the underside of the concrete structure where it is suspended in the air, for example, on a ceiling or a beam.
Where viewing distances are relatively close or high precision is not a concern, lower tolerances can be used to make effective mirrors at affordable costs. The reflectivity of a mirror is determined by the percentage of reflected light per the total of the incident light.
The reflectivity may vary with wavelength. All or a portion of the light not reflected is absorbed by the mirror, while in some cases a portion may also transmit through.
Although some small portion of the light will be absorbed by the coating, the reflectivity is usually higher for first-surface mirrors, eliminating both reflection and absorption losses from the substrate. The reflectivity is often determined by the type and thickness of the coating. When the thickness of the coating is sufficient to prevent transmission, all of the losses occur due to absorption.
Gold is very soft and easily scratched, costly, yet does not tarnish. Silver is expensive, soft, and quickly tarnishes, but has the highest reflectivity in the visual to near-infrared of any metal. Dielectric mirrors can reflect greater than However, dielectric coatings can also enhance the reflectivity of metallic coatings and protect them from scratching or tarnishing.
Dielectric materials are typically very hard and relatively cheap, however the number of coats needed generally makes it an expensive process. In mirrors with low tolerances, the coating thickness may be reduced to save cost, and simply covered with paint to absorb transmission. Surface quality, or surface accuracy, measures the deviations from a perfect, ideal surface shape.
Increasing the surface quality reduces distortion, artifacts, and aberration in images, and helps increase coherence , collimation , and reduce unwanted divergence in beams. For plane mirrors, this is often described in terms of flatness , while other surface shapes are compared to an ideal shape. These deviations can be much larger or much smaller than the surface roughness.
Surface roughness describes the texture of the surface, often in terms of the depth of the microscopic scratches left by the polishing operations. Surface roughness determines how much of the reflection is specular and how much diffuses, controlling how sharp or blurry the image will be.
For perfectly specular reflection, the surface roughness must be kept smaller than the wavelength of the light. For wavelengths that are approaching or are even shorter than the diameter of the atoms , such as X-rays , specular reflection can only be produced by surfaces that are at a grazing incidence from the rays. Transmissivity is determined by the percentage of light transmitted per the incident light. Transmissivity is usually the same from both first and second surfaces.
The combined transmitted and reflected light, subtracted from the incident light, measures the amount absorbed by both the coating and substrate. For transmissive mirrors, such as one-way mirrors, beam splitters , or laser output couplers , the transmissivity of the mirror is an important consideration.
The transmissivity of metallic coatings are often determined by their thickness. For precision beam-splitters or output couplers, the thickness of the coating must be kept at very high tolerances to transmit the proper amount of light.
For dielectric mirrors, the thickness of the coat must always be kept to high tolerances, but it is often more the number of individual coats that determine the transmissivity.
For the substrate, the material used must also have good transmissivity to the chosen wavelengths. Glass is a suitable substrate for most visible-light applications, but other substrates such as zinc selenide or synthetic sapphire may be used for infrared or ultraviolet wavelengths. Mirrors are commonly used as aids to personal grooming.
A classic example of the latter is the cheval glass , which may be tilted. With the sun as light source, a mirror can be used to signal by variations in the orientation of the mirror.
This technique was used by Native American tribes and numerous militaries to transmit information between distant outposts. Mirrors can also be used for search to attract the attention of search and rescue helicopters. Specialized type of mirrors are available and are often included in military survival kits.
Microscopic mirrors are a core element of many of the largest high-definition televisions and video projectors. A DLP chip is a postage stamp-sized microchip whose surface is an array of millions of microscopic mirrors. The picture is created as the individual mirrors move to either reflect light toward the projection surface pixel on , or toward a light absorbing surface pixel off.
Other projection technologies involving mirrors include LCoS. Like a DLP chip, LCoS is a microchip of similar size, but rather than millions of individual mirrors, there is a single mirror that is actively shielded by a liquid crystal matrix with up to millions of pixels.
The picture, formed as light, is either reflected toward the projection surface pixel on , or absorbed by the activated LCD pixels pixel off. LCoS-based televisions and projectors often use 3 chips, one for each primary color.
Large mirrors are used in rear projection televisions. Light for example from a DLP as mentioned above is "folded" by one or more mirrors so that the television set is compact. Mirrors are integral parts of a solar power plant. The one shown in the adjacent picture uses concentrated solar power from an array of parabolic troughs. Telescopes and other precision instruments use front silvered or first surface mirrors , where the reflecting surface is placed on the front or first surface of the glass this eliminates reflection from glass surface ordinary back mirrors have.
Some of them use silver, but most are aluminium, which is more reflective at short wavelengths than silver. All of these coatings are easily damaged and require special handling. The coatings are typically applied by vacuum deposition. A protective overcoat is usually applied before the mirror is removed from the vacuum, because the coating otherwise begins to corrode as soon as it is exposed to oxygen and humidity in the air.
Front silvered mirrors have to be resurfaced occasionally to keep their quality. There are optical mirrors such as mangin mirrors that are second surface mirrors reflective coating on the rear surface as part of their optical designs, usually to correct optical aberrations. The reflectivity of the mirror coating can be measured using a reflectometer and for a particular metal it will be different for different wavelengths of light.
This is exploited in some optical work to make cold mirrors and hot mirrors. A cold mirror is made by using a transparent substrate and choosing a coating material that is more reflective to visible light and more transmissive to infrared light. A hot mirror is the opposite, the coating preferentially reflects infrared. Mirror surfaces are sometimes given thin film overcoatings both to retard degradation of the surface and to increase their reflectivity in parts of the spectrum where they will be used.
For instance, aluminum mirrors are commonly coated with silicon dioxide or magnesium fluoride. The reflectivity as a function of wavelength depends on both the thickness of the coating and on how it is applied. For scientific optical work, dielectric mirrors are often used. These are glass or sometimes other material substrates on which one or more layers of dielectric material are deposited, to form an optical coating.
By careful choice of the type and thickness of the dielectric layers, the range of wavelengths and amount of light reflected from the mirror can be specified. Such mirrors are often used in lasers. In astronomy, adaptive optics is a technique to measure variable image distortions and adapt a deformable mirror accordingly on a timescale of milliseconds, to compensate for the distortions.
Although most mirrors are designed to reflect visible light, surfaces reflecting other forms of electromagnetic radiation are also called "mirrors". The mirrors for other ranges of electromagnetic waves are used in optics and astronomy.
Mirrors for radio waves sometimes known as reflectors are important elements of radio telescopes. Two or more mirrors aligned exactly parallel and facing each other can give an infinite regress of reflections, called an infinity mirror effect. Some devices use this to generate multiple reflections:. It has been said that Archimedes used a large array of mirrors to burn Roman ships during an attack on Syracuse. This has never been proven or disproved; however, it has been put to the test.
They were unsuccessful at starting a fire on the ship. Previous attempts to light the boat on fire using only the bronze mirrors available in Archimedes' time were unsuccessful, and the time taken to ignite the craft would have made its use impractical, resulting in the MythBusters team deeming the myth "busted".
It was however found that the mirrors made it very difficult for the passengers of the targeted boat to see, likely helping to cause their defeat, which may have been the origin of the myth. See solar power tower for a practical use of this technique. Due to its location in a steep-sided valley, the Italian town of Viganella gets no direct sunlight for seven weeks each winter.
In early the similarly situated village of Bondo, Switzerland , was considering applying this solution as well. Mirrors are a popular design theme in architecture, particularly with late modern and post-modernist high-rise buildings in major cities. In , the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that sunlight reflected off the Vdara's south-facing tower could singe swimmers in the hotel pool, as well as melting plastic cups and shopping bags; employees of the hotel referred to the phenomenon as the "Vdara death ray",  aka the " fryscraper.
Painters depicting someone gazing into a mirror often also show the person's reflection. This is a kind of abstraction—in most cases the angle of view is such that the person's reflection should not be visible. Similarly, in movies and still photography an actor or actress is often shown ostensibly looking at him- or herself in the mirror, and yet the reflection faces the camera. In reality, the actor or actress sees only the camera and its operator in this case, not their own reflection.
Contemporary anamorphic artist Jonty Hurwitz uses cylindrical mirrors to project distorted sculptures. Some other contemporary artists use mirrors as the material of art:. In the Middle Ages mirrors existed in various shapes for multiple uses. Mostly they were used as an accessory for personal hygiene but also as tokens of courtly love, made from ivory in the ivory carving centers in Paris, Cologne and the Southern Netherlands.
Burgundian ducal inventories show us that the dukes owned a mass of mirrors or objects with mirrors, not only with religious iconography or inscriptions, but combined with reliquaries, religious paintings or other objects that were distinctively used for personal piety. Depicted mirrors — orientated on the physical properties of a real mirror — can be seen as metaphors of knowledge and reflection and are thus able to remind the beholder to reflect and get to know himself.
The mirror may function simultaneously as a symbol and a device of a moral appeal. That is also the case if it is shown in combination with virtues and vices, a combination which also occurs more frequently in the 15th century: The moralizing layers of mirror metaphors remind the beholder to examine himself thoroughly according to his own virtuous or vicious life.
This is all the more true if the mirror is combined with iconography of death. Not only is Death as a corpse or skeleton holding the mirror for the still living personnel of paintings, illuminations and prints, but the skull appears on the convex surfaces of depicted mirrors, showing the painted and real beholder his future face. Mirrors are frequently used in interior decoration and as ornaments:. Only a few animal species have been shown to have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, most of them mammals.
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