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Does Reflected Light = Direct Light?

This may seem like the most boring question ever, but its implications are pretty cool: If you have a light source and a mirror, do you effectively have twice the light? We’ve waxed philosophically (and quite scientifically) on the <a title="Let's Learn About Lumens" href="http://ourblog.atgstores.com/lets-learn-about-lumens/" target="_blank">physical properties of light</a> in the past and have even suggested using mirrors to <a title="House of Mirrors" href="http://ourblog.atgstores.com/house-of-mirrors/" target="_blank">redistribute natural light</a>, but we’ve never really talked about how reflected light behaves. <strong>Reflected light does <em>not</em> equal direct light.</strong> To get right to the point, reflecting light is not the same as <em>reproducing</em> light. One may make an analogy to something else that is not reproduced via reflection (e.g., holding a dollar bill up to a mirror does not, unfortunately, give you two dollars), but it’s not the same. Light is a physical thing, but it is better understood as a form of radiant energy – and radiant energy has some pretty weird and wacky properties. It moves, it transforms and, most importantly in this conversation, it <em>gets absorbed</em>. <strong>Even mirrors absorb some light.</strong> A <a title="Mirrors" href="http://www.atgstores.com/mirrors_508.html" target="_blank">mirror</a> does not reflect all of the light that shines into it. Electrons on the mirror’s surface absorb light photons and emit new photons in the form of a reflection. Understanding why and how this happens is a bridge too far by way of an explanation of quantum mechanics, but it suffices to say that light in any amount is of a finite and ever-diminishing quantity as measured by luminosity. Simply put, a certain amount of light gets “lost” in the energy transfer of the reflection. How much depends on the intensity, angle and proximity of the light source to the mirror (not to mention the type and quality of the mirror itself), but the point is that a reflection does not double the amount of light being reflected. Pretty heavy stuff, right? But wait, it gets way heavier. <strong>Reflected light is more than an illusion and really can make spaces brighter.</strong> It’s easy to mistake reflected light as a trick of the eye. After all, we’ve already said a mirror can’t double the amount of light shined into it. The thing is, it doesn’t absorb as much of it as other non-reflective surfaces, either, so you really are redirecting (and reusing) the light. The best way to illustrate this is to consider the small Norwegian town of Rjukan. The town is nestled in an east-west mountain valley called Vestfjord and the high peaks cast a shadow over Rjukan for half the year. To fix this, engineers built large computer-operated mirrors on the mountain that track the movement of the sun – <a title="The Guardian" href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/rjukan-sun-norway-town-mirrors" target="_blank">and this past November, for the first time ever in history, winter sun illuminated the town square</a>. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, and a good reminder for the rest of us about the power of reflected light, in our homes and in our lives. <a title="ATG Stores Homepage" href="http://www.atgstores.com/default.aspx" target="_blank">ATGStores.com</a> hopes this gives you some ideas on how to use – and even decorate – with reflected light.
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