How Does Water Magnify Things?

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Behavior of Light

Light rays travel in straight lines. When they strike an opaque surface, the rays bounce, and light is reflected back to your eye so that you see an image. When light strikes a transparent object, some of the light passes through. If that light strikes the object straight on, it continues to travel in a straight line. If the light enters the transparent object at an angle, though, it changes direction, bending.

Light Refraction

This bending of light is called refraction. Refraction occurs because light entering an object slows down. When it enters at an angle, one side of the light ray enters before the other, slowing down first. You can imagine this by picturing a speeding car that suddenly has the brakes applied to one side only--the car would spin in the direction of the side that suddenly slows down.

Light in Water

Looking from above, an object under water appears larger than it does in air. It's not that the image the light gave our eyes is bigger. It's that the image is actually closer to our eyes, since the light is not passing straight down, but is instead bending relative to the water's surface. Light passing straight down would be perpendicular to the water's surface, like the vertical line on the letter T. A closer image looks bigger--the underwater object is magnified.

About the Author

Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.

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