Sunday, 24 January 2016

Introducing ray diagrams....

Before we go any further we need to introduce the concept of ray diagrams. Don't worry, this is fairly painless!
In other posts we've just run with the idea that light travels in waves. And that's true.... but if we're trying to calculate the path light takes, especially when we get to things like diffraction and refraction, accurately drawing waves themselves quickly gets difficult. To simplify this we use ray diagrams: These aren't meant to indicate that light is made up of rays, it's just a convenient way of showing the direction of the waves. 

To turn a wave diagram into a ray diagram is simple: Draw a line at right angles from the line of the wave, pointing in the direction the waves is going. Like so:
This is the 'ray' associated with that wave. If the the wave front is very broad, add some more. If the wave front is curved draw your ray at right angles to the tangent of the wave, and do it at several points, like so:

...which gives you a ray diagram like this:

...and that's all a ray diagram is, a way of showing the direction of motion of the waves!

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