Refraction, Reflection and Scattering Looking Out an Airplane Window

May 04, 2008

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Provided and copyright by: Mario Freitas, Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná
Summary author: Mario Freitas

The above photo showing different modes of the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and matter was captured on July 28, 2007, during an afternoon flight over northeastern Brazil. In the foreground, out-of-focus hexagonal ice crystals, having formed on the airplane window, produce several colorful spots and bands due to the decomposition of white light (sunlight) by refraction. This is the same principle responsible for atmospheric halos. In the distance, low-altitude, cumulus congestus clouds, composed of relatively large liquid water droplets, allow all visible wavelengths to equally scatter sunlight (Mie Scattering). Thus, cumulus clouds are much brighter than clouds made up of smaller sized droplets. Note also the sun glint from the wind-rippled surface of the Sao Francisco River. These ripples act as myriad randomly oriented mirrors, creating multiple reflected images of the solar disk.

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