What color is a mirror? Household item scientifically explained.
With morning and evening routines alone, people spend a lot of time looking at themselves in the mirror, but did you know that the history of this everyday object dates back to 4000 BC.
According to Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute of Archeology and Ancient World, the first mirrors were made of polished obsidian, a type of natural glass formed by volcanoes. Artificial glass mirrors did not appear until the third century AD, and even when they arrived they were very small.
The Joukowsky Institute indicates that one explanation for the mirror’s popularity as a grand decoration dates back to the reign of Louis XIV, who decreed in 1689 that silver, a popular decorative material, would be confiscated to fund military campaigns. As a result, the upper class turned to shiny, reflective glass to decorate their homes.
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What color is a mirror?
According to BBC Science Focus Magazine, most mirrors are technically white with a slight green tint.
According to Live Science, color is the result of reflected light. To produce color, objects absorb certain wavelengths of light while reflecting others. An object that appears red, for example, simply reflects red light. Black objects reflect no light. Because a mirror is designed to reflect all wavelengths of the visible spectrum, a perfect mirror would be white – the reflection of all colors.
But mirrors aren’t perfect. Most mirrors reflect green light stronger than other colors because they have an underlying layer of silica glass, whose atoms reflect green wavelengths more than other colors, according to ZME Science.
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How do mirrors work?
When light strikes an object, it is either absorbed, reflected, or transmitted through the object, explains Microscopy Today. According to Live Science, reflected light often scatters in countless directions depending on the shape of the object, affected even by microscopic texture features.
Because of this, mirrors are very smooth, according to Live Science. This means they can reflect light without scattering it. By returning particles of light in nearly the same arrangement, a mirror reflects light back to the viewer in a way that allows them to see their reflection clearly.
Why do mirrors flip everything horizontally?
Turns out not. There is a change happening, but it is not a horizontal change.
As educational YouTube creator Dianna Cowern, also known as Physics Girl, explains, an image is actually flipped along the z-axis, which can be tricky to understand.
When you hold something with printed text in front of a mirror, it may appear to be upside down, but think of it this way: if you could see through the paper, you couldn’t read it from the back either. It would be backwards. That means you’re the one who flipped it horizontally, as if someone was standing in front of you to read it – but mirrors don’t reflect things exactly as another person would see them. You would need a photo to see this perspective.
To put it another way, someone standing in front of you would have their left hand facing your right and their right hand facing your left. In this scenario, they are actually flipped horizontally because their body is not in the same orientation as yours. In the mirror, your left hand always matches your left hand and your right hand matches your right. Cowern says we’re just not used to it because we’re used to standing in front of people who are turned to face us.
So the next time you look in the mirror, remember that you don’t see yourself like other people. You see yourself flipped along the z axis.