Optics is the study of light, and its interaction with matter. It includes topics such as imaging systems, fiber optics, lasers, quantum optics, and more.

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How does light bend around my finger tip?

When I close one eye and put the tip of my finger near my open eye, it seems as if the light from the background image bends around my finger slightly, warping the image near the edges of my blurry ...
124
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8answers
14k views

Could Legolas actually see that far?

The video “How Far Can Legolas See?” by MinutePhysics recently went viral. The video states that although Legolas would in principle be able to count $105$ horsemen $24\text{ km}$ away, he shouldn't ...
73
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5answers
11k views

Why wet is dark?

When something gets wet, it usually appears darker. This can be observed with soil, sand, cloth, paper, concrete, bricks ... What is the reason for this? How does water soaking into the material ...
70
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6answers
19k views

Why are most metals gray/silver?

Why do most metals (iron, tin, aluminum, lead, zinc, tungsten, nickel, etc.) appear silver or gray in color? (What atomic characteristics determine the color?) What makes copper and gold have ...
64
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5answers
6k views

What challenges needed to be overcome to create (blue) LEDs?

In light of today's announcement of the 2014 Nobel laureates, and because of a discussion among colleagues about the physical significance of these devices, let me ask: What is the physical ...
60
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3answers
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Why can we see the dust particles in a narrow beam of light (and not in an all lighted area)?

Let us say that I am sitting in a room with all the drapes open. Bright sunlight is coming through the window. The whole room is brilliantly lighted. I will not be able to see the dust particles ...
57
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3answers
2k views

What causes insects to cast large shadows from where their feet are?

I recently stumbled upon this interesting image of a wasp, floating on water: Assuming this isn't photoshopped, I have a couple of questions: Why do you see its image like that (what's the ...
56
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3answers
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How to measure the wavelength of a laser pointer?

I'm working on something and I need to know the wavelength of the laser pointer that I'm using. Can you suggest me a way, using some optics formulae, or anything else to calculate the wavelength?
55
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3answers
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Why do beams of light (from torches or other directed sources) not extend to infinity?

When I'm in a dark environment, and I turn on a torch, I can see the beam of light from the torch. To the best of my understanding, the main reason why I can see the beam of light is that the light ...
53
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4answers
10k views

Why is water clear?

Water appears transparent to visible light, yet most other objects are opaque. Why is that? Is there an explanation why water appears transparent? Is water transparent at all wavelengths, or are ...
51
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1answer
16k views

Why does a window become a mirror at night?

In day, when you look in the room through the window out, you can clearly see what happens outside. At night when it's dark outside but there's light inside you can look in the window but it becomes a ...
47
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2answers
8k views

Why do I see better under water using swimming goggles? [duplicate]

I am myopic (I don't really know if this is relevant or not) and I usually swim without contact lenses. My vision is clearly better underwater when I am using swimming goggles. I have tried to ...
46
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5answers
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Why glass is transparent?

Once I asked this question from my teacher and he replied "because it passes light", "and why it passes light" I asked and he said "because it is transparent". Same question again, Why glass is ...
45
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2answers
6k views

Why are gold mirrors yellow?

Why are golden mirrors yellow? Do they add a yellow component to the spectrum or absorb non-yellow components? If they absorb, then why are they used in telescopes being imperfect? If they add a ...
43
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4answers
2k views

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point?

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point? Could I burn space ants?
42
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5answers
3k views

What causes this pattern of sunlight reflected off a table leg?

My friend noticed an interference-like pattern around the table leg. However, we do know that interference patterns of sunlight produces rainbow colours. What seems to be happening here?
41
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6answers
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Do people wearing glasses have different field of view than those who don't?

There is one thing I sometimes wonder about ever since I was a child. Do people who wear eye glasses see objects in different size than those who don't?(Technically different size means different ...
39
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5answers
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If a lens focuses all incoming light to a point, how do we get 2D images?

How do lenses produce 2-dimensional images, if a lens bends all incoming rays of light to intersect at the focal point? Shouldn't this produce a single dot of light on a screen placed at the focal ...
38
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4answers
4k views

What really cause light/photons to appear slower in media?

I know that if we solve the Maxwell equation, we will end up with the phase velocity of light being related to the permeability and the permittivity of the material. But this is not what I'm ...
33
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6answers
12k views

Why can we see through rain?

I am gazing through my office window into a heavy rain. I am thinking that raindrops are like small lenses that bend the light. Thus I am surprised, that I can clearly see other buildings through the ...
32
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2answers
5k views

Why is the sun brighter in Australia compared to parts of Asia?

Background: I've lived in Philippines for several years, and visited other parts of Asia occasionally (Singapore, Indonesia, Hongkong). I just moved to Western Australia a few months ago and I ...
31
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1answer
10k views

Why does paper become translucent when smeared with oil but not (so much) with water?

When I smear oil onto a scrap of paper and rub it in, the paper becomes quite translucent; but when I attempt the same with water it doesn't as much. Why?
31
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4answers
655 views

Why doesn't a typical beam splitter cause a photon to decohere?

In many experiments in quantum mechanics, a single photon is sent to a mirror which it passes through or bounces off with 50% probability, then the same for some more similar mirrors, and at the end ...
30
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9answers
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Is it possible to blur an image in such way that a person with sight problems could see it sharp?

If someone has short or long sight, is it possible to tune image on a computer monitor in such way, that a person could see it sharp as if they were wearing glasses? If not, will 3d monitor make it ...
30
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5answers
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How does gravitational lensing account for Einstein's Cross?

Einstein's Cross has been attributed to gravitational lensing. However, most examples of gravitational lensing are crescents known as Einstein's rings. I can easily understand the rings and crescents, ...
29
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3answers
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How does light speed up after coming out of a glass slab?

As I learned today in school, my teacher told me that when light enters a glass slab it slows down due to the change in density and it speeds up as it goes out of the glass slab. This causes a lateral ...
28
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6answers
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Why did high quality mirrors use aluminum coatings instead of silver?

I have two questions on mirrors. I’ve read that in the past quality mirrors were coated with silver but that today vacuum evaporated coatings of aluminum are the accepted standard. When I look at ...
28
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3answers
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Why aren't all objects transparent?

I know that for an object to be transparent, visible light must go through it undisturbed. In other words, if the light energy is sufficiently high to excite one of the electrons in the material, ...
28
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4answers
4k views

Why does the sky change color? Why the sky is blue during the day, red during sunrise/set and black during the night?

Why does the sky change color? Why the sky is blue during the day, red during sunrise/set and black during the night?
27
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7answers
1k views

Are quantum effects significant in lens design?

Over on Photography, a question was asked as to why (camera) lenses are always cylindrical. Paraphrasing slightly, one of the answers and follow-up comments asserted that quantum effects are ...
27
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3answers
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Virtual vs Real image

I'm doing magnification and lens in class currently, and I really don't get why virtual and real images are called what they are. A virtual image occurs the object is less than the focal length of ...
27
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3answers
2k views

How to recover an unfocussed image

If the lenses in a camera are not set correctly, the intended subject will be "out of focus" in the resulting image. There seems to be no loss of information here. The photons are just steered to the ...
26
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4answers
4k views

How do those T-shirts that change color in the sun work?

When I was a kid, I asked my dad about them and he said (not in so many words) that it was because sunlight and artificial light have different spectrums and they picked colors that reflect only the ...
25
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2answers
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How are classical optics phenomena explained in QED (Snell's law)?

How is the following classical optics phenomenon explained in quantum electrodynamics? Reflection and Refraction Are they simply due to photons being absorbed and re-emitted? How do we get to ...
23
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7answers
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How do we see? Where do the photons disappear?

I know that the light is reflected from a object to my eyes, but I don't understand exactly how. The photons appear from the light source and disappear in my eye! Can someone explain the phenomenon of ...
23
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3answers
5k views

How to determine what size telescope to buy

A couple of years ago my son showed an interest in astronomy and we bought a 6" reflector telescope. We use it pretty regularly and have enjoyed it immensely. Lately we've both been wishing we had ...
23
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1answer
9k views

Why can you see virtual images?

In optics it is widely mentioned real images are projectable onto screens whereas virtual ones can only be seen by a person. Isn't that contradictory? I mean in order to see the virtual image it has ...
23
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1answer
845 views

How can my window not scramble the image of my yard?

How can an image pass through a window if the atoms in the glass randomly emit photons in any direction? I've read that glass is transparent because the atoms don't readily adsorb visible light, so it ...
23
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0answers
804 views

Are the fast axes on Thorlabs quarter-waveplates mislabeled?

Some members of my lab are performing a polarization-sensitive experiment where they need to use a quarter-waveplate (QWP) with the fast axis in a specific direction. In the process of carefully ...
22
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2answers
14k views

How do Optically Active Compounds Rotate Plane Polarized Light?

I am not sure if this is more of a Chemistry or a Physics question, but in my Organic Chem class we discussed that chiral molecules will rotate plane polarized light. However, my professor did not ...
21
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5answers
8k views

Eyes open under water

Yesterday I looked underwater with my eyes open (and no goggles) and I realized I can't see anything clearly. Everything looks very, very blurry. My guess is that the eye needs direct contact with air ...
21
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7answers
4k views

Why can't an electron be observed?

I was watching a show on Netflix hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson and he mentioned that one of the fundamental particles that we know of, the electron, is something we have never even observed directly. ...
21
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4answers
4k views

Is one way glass possible?

I am not talking about mirrors, just a plain window made of glass like material. Would it be possible to allow light pass only in one direction but not the other?
21
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2answers
1k views

Why is Huygens' principle only valid in an odd number of spatial dimensions?

Apparently Huygens' principle is only valid in an odd number of spatial dimensions: http://mathoverflow.net/a/5396/21349 Huygen's principle in curved spacetimes Why is this? [EDIT] This is ...
21
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5answers
8k views

Why do nearsighted people see better with their glasses *rotated*?

If you are nearsighted (like me), you may have noticed that if you tilt your glasses, you can see distant objects more clear than with normally-positioned glasses. If you already see completely clear, ...
20
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4answers
3k views

Newton's rings: What causes the other rings?

This is from an experiment we did in physics class. We shone a sodium light at a convex lens on top of a sheet of glass - and this image was captured by a USB microscope. I know what causes the main ...
20
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7answers
4k views

Does a mirror help a near-sighted persion see at a distance clearer?

A near-sighted person without eye-glasses can not clearly see things at distance. If he takes a photo of the things at distance, he can see the things from the photo much clearer, because he can ...
20
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1answer
5k views

How are photons “consumed”?

I have very little background in physics, so I apologize if this question is painfully naive. Consider the following thought experiment: an observer is in a closed room whose walls, floor, and ...
20
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5answers
7k views

Why can you have shiny black objects?

Knowing black is supposed to be the "color" (I don't want to get into the color/hue/shade debate, please) that absorbs light. how does one manage to have shiny black surfaces? I know about "gloss ...
20
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4answers
765 views

How to optically rotate images in small increments (for eyeglasses)?

As the result of an accident, one or more nerves that control the rotation of my left eye were damaged. The result is that my left eye views the world rotated clockwise several degrees, compared to my ...