Total internal reflection

Have you ever wondered why at some angles the sea looks blue (or whatever the color of the sky that day) and at others you can actually look into the water? That’s the phenomenon of total internal reflection. There is a critical angle at which you switch from “being able to look into water” to “total internal reflection”, i.e. the sky being reflected off the water’s surface and reaching your eye. Below you see a nice example of this: The more perpendicular you look at the water surface (i.e. those sides of the wave facing you), the better you can look into the water. Whereas all those parts of the sea surface that face away from you look blue and you can’t look into the water there.

I think this is totally fascinating! Don’t those pictures look almost fake?

And, btw, this doesn’t only happen if you look in parallel to the direction of wave propagation. Although it looks even weirder at an angle:

Can you see how all those tiny ripples on the wave each show the same phenomenon of either reflecting the sky or being transparent and showing the sea floor underneath? How cool is that? :-)

5 thoughts on “Total internal reflection

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