Why couldn't I focus on a reflection when close to the mirror?

27 November 2011

Question

While getting ready for work one morning I encountered something I can't figure out.

I wear glasses and without them objects are blurry unless I get very close, within a few inches.  I always take my glasses off when I blow dry my hair in the morning.  While standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom I can see a reflection of the tv screen in the bedroom.  It is blurry when my glasses are off and much clearer when I put my glasses on.  One morning I was interested in a show on tv whilst I was drying my hair so I figured I could watch what was going on if i put my face very close to the mirror while I dried my hair.  I tried but no matter how close I got to the mirror the reflected image of the tv stayed blurry.  I was close enough to where I normally can see an object clearly without my glasses.  I can't figure out why the reflection remained blurry despite my closeness to the mirror. Why would that be?

Thanks in advance!!

Answer

So even though the TV ought to be close enough, why does the mirror keep it blurry? We posed this question to Dr Brian Robertson, research associate at the photonics and sensors group in the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge... Brian - In answer to your question, you have to focus a camera or your eyes because as your light leaves an object it spreads out but to get a good image, the lenses in your eye have to bend all the light from one point in the object onto one point on the retina in the back of your eye. If you're close to an object, light is spreading out more quickly so the light needs more bending to produce a sharp image and come into focus than if you're far away. The eye adjusts to these distances by changing the shape of the lens - short and long sightedness occurs when the eye is less able to accommodate these changes. Light reflecting from a mirror gives the impression that the object is behind the mirror and you get this impression because the light having reflected from the mirror is moving exactly as if it were coming from an object behind the mirror. This is not just true of the direction of the light is travelling, but it's also how the light is spreading out. So your eye does exactly the same job focusing on an object that appears 10 meters away in the mirror as focusing on the actual object 10 meters away. So, if you're short sighted, the object in this case, the television screen, still appears blurred regardless of how close you are to the mirror.

Diana - On the forum, RD said that it doesn't matter how close you get to the mirror when an object is a certain distance from it. If you're short sighted then the lens in your eye cannot adjust for the amount of spread the light has taken over that distance. He also mentioned that a convex mirror can cause the object to appear even farther away as it spreads the light even more. Again, making it blurry if you're short sighted. Next week, nails on a blackboard.

Add a comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.