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Overview         (For age - group : Below 16 )

How and why are mirages formed in desert, This educational science animation explains this phenomenon on the basis of heating of air and total internal reflection of light. Useful for understanding optical densities, critical angle and refraction.

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Mirage in Desert: Category : Science Type : Animartion
Duration : 6 minutes

The animation answers the following

Why do we perceive water when we see a mirage ?

Why is a mirage formed ?

Explanatory notes section : What are the conditions for the TIR (Total Internal Refraction)?
What is critical angle?
Why cool air is optically denser than the hot air?
Why observer's brain concludes that only water body can produce such reflection of tree?
Why light ray bends towards normal while traveling to a denser medium?

desert mirage
physics and ray diagram of desert mirage
We perceive a reflection where there is none
The mirage occurs due to total internal reflection
Details of the animation/ movie /software

In desert, one may see images of distant trees during high temperature . Since in nature, images of trees are formed only in water, therefore one is tricked into believing that a tree is situated near some water body and its reflection is being seen.

However, on reaching spot , it is found that the water has vanished . This phenomenon is called mirage.

Mirage occurs due to total internal reflection of light. When the sun is high in the sky, the sand gets heated first and then the layers of air above it. The rays from the trees travel from an optically denser air layer to a rarer layer and hence bend away from the normal. This bending continues and a stage is reached where the angle of incidence becomes greater than the critical angle and total internal reflection takes place.

The totally reflected rays that reach the eyes appear to come from a point on the ground where the image of the tree is formed. Thus one sees an inverted image of the tree though there is no water around.

If you are still unclear about the phenomenon, please refer the animation

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Q & A
Q1: at the evining time when on the surface of water shows like stars are blinking on the surface hanzala 30/4/2014
Q2: why stars shine at night or why stars do not shine in day light? waqar 26/2/2014
Q3: how the rainbow is form TIR or reffrection & scattering Irshad Ansari 24/8/2013
Q4: how is mirage formed on the road? Shivani Davne 29/7/2012
Q5: what is a mirage alberta akofowaa 22/3/2012
Q6: a person travelling in desert happens to see mirage why ch zunera 19/12/2011
Q7: why do stars twinkle? dipak 16/3/2011
Q8: will you explain me how is a mirage formed with illustration gargi 5/8/2010
Q9: what is a mirage s 26/5/2010
Q10: people say that there lies a real water body around a few kilometers away). is this true ? tania 26/5/2010
Q11: why the incident ray not divert striking at an angle 90 akhtar 14/3/2010
Q12: I arrived about 1 a.m.in Rockhampton,Queensland. Opposite the hotel was a lovely old building. Next morning when I looked it was just a parking lot!! and after exploring the town the building I'd seen was blocks away near the river! Please explain?? sue 1/1/2009
Q13: do the mirages occur in polar areas also if yes give complete information with ray diagram abhijeet badgaiyan 19/8/2008
Q14: why are some mirages not upsidedown? and the delay? ve 25/1/2008
Ans: An inferior image is usually upside down but Superior images can be straight up or upside down depending on the distance of the true object and the temperature gradient. These occur mainly over the horizon of the sea or in the polar region. Superior mirage occurs when the air below the line of sight is colder than that above. Often the image appears as a distorted mixture of up and down parts.
Q15: what is total internal reflection? alvin 2/10/2007
Ans: TIR occurs at the critical angle where the angle of incidence produces an angle of refraction of 90-degrees. When a light ray approaches a less dense medium (air) from a denser medium (water) the bending is toward the surface. At a certain angle, the bending will be so high that the refracted beam will be directed right along the surface (angle of refraction is 90 degree to Normal) so none of it will get out into the air, at a higher angle it will all be reflected inward.
Q16: Can we have more free animations? TEENA 25/9/2007
Ans: We will be uploading a few of them soon, check back after a few days
Q17: what is refraction all about? termica 9/2/2007
Ans: Refraction is a phenomenon that occurs due to slowing down (or speeding up) of waves and a subsequent change in their direction, when they come across a different medium. Analogy : if a car moving on road has its one wheel go into sand on the roadside, this wheel will slow down immediately due to friction and drag by sand while the other wheel is traveling at a higher speed, this make the car turn into sand. Once inside sand, both wheel will move at same speed so car will move linearly again.
Q18: How is a mirage formed Girl 12345 9/8/2006
Ans: They form due to atmospheric refraction specially when the surface is hotter than the air above it, if a desert sand may be at 20-22 deg Celsius hotter than air 1 cm above it a mirage will be formed. The rule of the thumb is if the temperature difference of air 1 meter above of the surface is less that 1.7 deg Celsius from as compared to the surface temperature no mirage is formed, if its 2.8-3 deg Celsius cooler, a moderate mirage and if around 4.5 deg Celsius cooler a strong mirage is formed.

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