Diffraction of Light
light bending around an object

Diffraction is the slight bending of light as it passes around the edge of an object. The amount of bending depends on the relative size of the wavelength of light to the size of the opening. If the opening is much larger than the light's wavelength, the bending will be almost unnoticeable. However, if the two are closer in size or equal, the amount of bending is considerable, and easily seen with the naked eye.

In the atmosphere, diffracted light is actually bent around atmospheric particles -- most commonly, the atmospheric particles are tiny water droplets found in clouds. Diffracted light can produce fringes of light, dark or colored bands. An optical effect that results from the diffraction of light is the silver lining sometimes found around the edges of clouds or coronas surrounding the sun or moon. The illustration above shows how light (from either the sun or the moon) is bent around small droplets in the cloud.

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Credits and Acknowledgments for WW2010.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS) at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.