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What is a Concave Mirror?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 21, 2024
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Sometimes referred to as a converging mirror, the concave mirror is made with a surface that bends inward. Because the center of the curve is directed away from any incident light, it creates a reflection that is typically larger than the actual focal point.

This type of mirror is considered a converging device because it collects the light that falls into the bowl created by the inward bulge of the surface. This collection causes the light to refocus into a single focal length. The light is collected at different angles, since the concave nature of the bulge allows the light rays to make normal contact at differing depths at each point on the surface of the mirror.

The unique reflection that is created by a concave mirror makes the device extremely useful in a number of different devices. One of the most common applications is with the production of automobile headlights. By placing the source of light at the center of the mirror reflector, the result is a parallel beam of light that provides both good visibility for the driver of the car as well as points of light that are obvious to approaching vehicles.

In a similar way, the concave mirror provides a focused beam of light for searchlights. The construction of the lens allows the production of a parallel beam that can be easily directed when the searchlight is swiveled or positioned. Featuring a relatively easy construction, this mirror helps to keep the cost of the searchlights relatively low while still being one of the more durable components on the device.

The dental profession also benefits from the use of a concave mirror. It is used to focus light onto the area of the mouth that the dentist is working on, providing a clear reflection of the tooth or set of teeth. This type of mirror can be handheld or mounted over the dental chair.

A concave mirror can be very helpful around the house as well. Men may use one while shaving, since the device will provide a magnified image of the beard line. Women often use one while applying makeup for its magnifying properties as well, since the larger image can make detailed makeup much easier to apply.

Even the field of alternative energy benefits from this type of mirror. Solar heating devices often make use of concave mirror panels as a means of gathering solar energy for storage. The bowl-like design helps to collect the sun's rays and focus them into a battery system, proving to be much more efficient than some other methods of powering solar heating systems.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including All The Science, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon333435 — On May 05, 2013

What can concave and convex mirrors be used in theatre for?

By CopperPipe — On Aug 05, 2010

@googlefanz -- The different design of the mirrors makes them good for different things.

For instance, many stores use convex mirrors to see around corners or into out of the way places to prevent shoplifting.

Many car side mirrors have a smaller convex mirror on them too, to provide a greater range of vision.

Both convex and concave mirrors can also be used to get a special effect in photography, although most people still use a concave mirror for magnification, primarily.

They both have many more uses than that -- for instance a convex mirror for ATM safety, concave mirrors for telescopes -- but the above are some of the most common uses.

By googlefanz — On Aug 05, 2010

What is the difference between a convex and a concave mirror?

I know that a concave mirror goes in and a convex mirror goes out, but how do they differ in usage?

By Charlie89 — On Aug 05, 2010

I never knew that what those magnifying shaving mirrors were called. Or, for that matter, that my headlights and the light at the dentist's used the same item.

Very interesting and informative article!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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