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Name: Adriana
Status: other
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999 

I placed a few books on a mirror, then placed a small item on top of the middle of the books. Why does the mirror reflect that small item and not be blocked by the much larger books? I've always been fascinated how a whole room can be reflected in a small mirror.


The entire space on the reflecting side of a flat mirror can be seen in the mirror if the observer looks at the mirror at different angle (i.e., moves her head about).

For a given position of your eyes with respect to the mirror, you can see the portion of the space (on the reflecting side of mirror) that falls within the angle that you eyes make with the sides of the mirror. This is easier to illustrate graphically, but lets do a thought experiment to illustrate the point. If you take a flash light that produces a diverging (expanding) light beam and point it at a mirror (illuminating the entire mirror surface) in a dark room, you would see that the reflected beam from the mirror illuminate part of the room on the reflecting side of the mirror. This part of the room is the same part that you eye (placed at the same location as the flashlight) would see if you turn the lights on in the room and look into the mirror.

Regarding the small object on the books, you can see it if you properly position your eyes such that the angle that your eyes make with the mirror when reflected and traced out into space would have the small object in its field. (As you know, then angle of incident and reflection are the same off a mirror, a property that you would use in tracing out the said angles into space).

Hope this answers your question.


Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory

If I were to attempt the experiment described (place a mirror parallel to the floor, place a book on it, then place a small object on top of the book) I would not expect to be able to see the object in the mirror unless the object was tall enough to be seen sticking up above the book.

You will see in the mirror those parts of the object that would be visible if you replaced the mirror with a sheet of glass and then adjusted your position so your eyes were the same distance below the glass as they were above the mirror.

Dr. Bradburn

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