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# What Does Refraction Mean in Rainbow Terms

### Refraction | Define Refraction at Dictionary.com

The bending of a wave, such as a light or sound wave, as it passes from one medium to another medium of different density. The change in the angle of propagation depends on the difference between the index of refraction of the original medium and the medium entered by the wave, as well as on the frequency of the wave. Compare reflection. See also lens, wave.

### Light Bends

The fundamental process at work in a rainbow is refraction -- the "bending" of light. Light bends -- or more accurately, changes directions -- when it travels from one medium to another. This happens because light travels at different speeds in different mediums.

To understand why light bends, imagine you're pushing a shopping cart across a parking lot. The parking lot is one "medium" for the shopping cart. If you're exerting a constant force, the cart's speed depends on the medium it's traveling through -- in this case, the parking lot's paved surface. What happens when you push the shopping cart out of the parking lot, onto a grassy area? The grass is a different "medium" for the shopping cart. If you push the cart straight onto the grass, the cart will simply slow down. The grass medium offers more resistance, so it takes more energy to move the shopping cart.

### What is an example of refraction?

The formation of a rainbow and the splitting of light when it passes through a prism are examples of refraction. A pencil placed in a beaker of water looks bent due to refraction of...

It went that way…I mean that way? Which way does this arrow point? Using physics to give bad directions.

What you Need

A note card

Fill your glass of water.

Draw a horizontal arrow on a note card.

Put the note card behind the glass of water and slowly move the note card back. Look through the glass from the front and observe the arrow. What appears to happen to it?

### Dispersion: Rainbows and Prisims

We see about six colors in a rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet; sometimes indigo is listed, too. These colors are associated with different wavelengths of light. White light, in particular, is a fairly uniform mixture of all visible wavelengths. Sunlight, considered to be white, actually appears to be a bit yellow because of its mixture of wavelengths, but it does contain all visible wavelengths. The sequence of colors in rainbows is the same sequence as the colors plotted versus wavelength . What this implies is that white light is spread out according to wavelength in a rainbow. Dispersion is defined as the spreading of white light into its full spectrum of wavelengths. More technically, dispersion occurs whenever there is a process that changes the direction of light in a manner that depends on wavelength. Dispersion, as a general phenomenon, can occur for any type of wave and always involves wavelength-dependent processes.

### Reflection, Refraction, and Diffraction

1. Reflection ↑

Ancient Greek mathematician Euclid described the law of reflection in about 300 BCE. This states that light travels in straight lines and reflects from a smooth surface at the same angle at which it hit it.

The angle of incidence (i) equals the angle of reflection (r). Image credit: Helen Klus/CC-NC-SA.

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