When a wave passes from one medium into another medium that has a different velocity of propagation, a change in the direction of the wave will occur. This changing of direction as the wave enters the second medium is called REFRACTION. As in the discussion of reflection, the wave striking the boundary (surface) is called the INCIDENT WAVE, and the imaginary line perpendicular to the boundary is called the NORMAL. The angle between the incident wave and the normal is called the ANGLE OF INCIDENCE. As the wave passes through the boundary, it is bent either toward or away from the normal. The angle between the normal and the path of the wave through the second medium is the ANGLE OF REFRACTION.
A light wave passing through a block of glass is shown in figure 1-10. The wave moves from point A to B at a constant speed. This is the incident wave. As the wave penetrates the glass boundary at point B, the velocity of the wave is slowed down. This causes the wave to bend toward the normal. The wave then takes the path from point B to C through the glass and becomes BOTH the refracted wave from the top surface and the incident wave to the lower surface. As the wave passes from the glass to the air (the second boundary), it is again refracted, this time away from the normal and takes the path from point C to D. As the wave passes through the last boundary, its velocity increases to the original velocity. As figure 1-10 shows, refracted waves can bend toward or away from the normal. This bending depends on the velocity of the wave through each medium. The broken line between points B and E is the path that the wave would travel if the two mediums (air and glass) had the same density.
Figure 1-10. - Refraction of a wave.
To summarize what figure 1-10 shows:
If the wave passes from a less dense medium to a more dense medium, it is bent toward the normal, and the angle of refraction (r) is less than the angle of incidence (i). If the wave passes from a more dense to a less dense medium, it is bent away from the normal, and the angle of refraction (r1) is greater than the angle of incidence (i1).
You can more easily understand refraction by looking at figure 1-11. There is a plowed field in the middle of a parade ground. Think of the incident wave as a company of recruits marching four abreast at an angle across the parade ground to the plowed field, then crossing the plowed field and coming out on the other side onto the parade ground again. As the recruits march diagonally across the parade ground and begin to cross the boundary onto the plowed field, the front line is slowed down. Because the recruits arrive at the boundary at different times, they will begin to slow down at different times (number 1 slows down first and number 4 slows down last in each line). The net effect is a bending action. When the recruits leave the plowed field and reenter the parade ground, the reverse action takes place.
Figure 1-11. - Analogy of refraction.
DIFFRACTION is the bending of the wave path when the waves meet an obstruction. The amount of diffraction depends on the wavelength of the wave. Higher frequency waves are rarely diffracted in the normal world that surrounds us. Since light waves are high frequency waves, you will rarely see light diffracted. You can, however, observe diffraction in sound waves by listening to music. Suppose you are outdoors listening to a band. If you step behind a solid obstruction, such as a brick wall, you will hear mostly low notes. This is because the higher notes, having short wave lengths, undergo little or no diffraction and pass by or over the wall without wrapping around the wall and reaching your ears. The low notes, having longer wavelengths, wrap around the wall and reach your ears. This leads to the general statement that lower frequency waves tend to diffract more than higher frequency waves. Broadcast band (AM band) radio waves (lower frequency waves) often travel over a mountain to the opposite side from their source because of diffraction, while higher frequency TV and FM signals from the same source tend to be stopped by the mountain.
The last, but equally important, characteristic of a wave that we will discuss is the Doppler effect. The DOPPLER EFFECT is the apparent change in frequency or pitch when a sound source moves either toward or away from the listener, or when the listener moves either toward or away from the sound source. This principle, discovered by the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, applies to all wave motion.
The apparent change in frequency between the source of a wave and the receiver of the wave is because of relative motion between the source and the receiver. To understand the Doppler effect, first assume that the frequency of a sound from a source is held constant. The wavelength of the sound will also remain constant. If both the source and the receiver of the sound remain stationary, the receiver will hear the same frequency sound produced by the source. This is because the receiver is receiving the same number of waves per second that the source is producing. Now, if either the source or the receiver or both move toward the other, the receiver will perceive a higher frequency sound. This is because the receiver will receive a greater number of sound waves per second and interpret the greater number of waves as a higher frequency sound. Conversely, if the source and the receiver are moving apart, the receiver will receive a smaller number of sound waves per second and will perceive a lower frequency sound. In both cases, the frequency of the sound produced by the source will have remained constant.
For example, the frequency of the whistle on a fast-moving train sounds increasingly higher in pitch as the train is approaching than when the train is departing. Although the whistle is generating sound waves of a constant frequency, and though they travel through the air at the same velocity in all directions, the distance between the approaching train and the listener is decreasing. As a result, each wave has less distance to travel to reach the observer than the wave preceding it. Thus, the waves arrive with decreasing intervals of time between them.
These apparent changes in frequency, called the Doppler effect, affect the operation of equipment used to detect and measure wave energy. In dealing with electromagnetic wave propagation, the Doppler principle is used in equipment such as radar, target detection, weapons control, navigation, and sonar.