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When a ray of light emerges obliquely from glass into air, the angle of refraction between ray and normal is greater than the angle of incidence inside the glass, and at a sufficiently high obliquity the angle of refraction can actually reach 90°. In this case the emerging ray travels along the glass surface, and the sine of the angle of incidence inside the glass, known as the critical angle, is then equal to the reciprocal of the refractive index of the material. At angles of incidence greater than the critical angle, the ray never emerges, and total internal reflection occurs, for there is no measurable loss if the glass surface is perfectly clean. Dirt or dust on the surface can cause a small loss of energy by scattering some light into the air.
Light is totally internally reflected in many types of reflecting prism and in fibre optics, in which long fibres of high-index glass clad with a thin layer of lower index glass are assembled side-by-side in precise order. The light admitted into one end of each fibre is transmitted along it without loss by thousands of successive internal reflections at the interlayer between the glass and the cladding. Hence, an image projected upon one end of the bundle will be dissected and transmitted to the other end, where it can be examined through a magnifier or photographed. Many modern medical instruments, such as cystoscopes and bronchoscopes, depend for their action on this principle. Single thick fibres (actually glass rods) are sometimes used to transmit light around corners to an otherwise inaccessible location.