Light travels as waves, with the wavefronts perpendicular to the direction
of motion. In the animation shown here, the wavefronts are represented
by the green parallel lines. The red arrow represents the direction of
motion. As light moves from air into water, it not only slows, but
changes. The animation below illustrates how the wavelength becomes shorter
in the denser medium of water. To replay an animation, click on "replay".
Once you have viewed the first animation, click on "2" to continue.
Interestingly enough, the frequency
of the waves does not change as the light moves from air to water. As we
saw in the Review page, the wave's speed v
is related to both the frequency f and the wavelength
Combining the above expression for velocity with the definition of index
of refraction, we find a relationship between the wavelength
v/f in a medium and the wavelength
c/f in vacuum:
In the above equation, the frequencies cancel because frequency does
not change as light moves from one medium to another.