LIGHT . REFLECTION AND RAREFRACTION
Light consists of electromagnetic waves, which induce some oscillation of electrons in any substance hit by the light. In an insulator such as glass, the electrons are firmly bound and can only oscillate around their normal position. This movement influences the propagation of light so that its wave velocity is reduced, while there is only a small loss of energy. This is different in a metal, where some of the electrons are free to move over large distances, but their motion is damped so that energy is dissipated. The wave amplitude decays very quickly in the metal–usually within a small fraction of the wavelength. Associated with that decay is a loss of energy in the wave and some heating of the metal. Most of the incident optical power, however, is reflected at the air/metal interface. In other words, the power is transferred to another wave with a different propagation direction (opposite to the original direction for normal incidence on the surface).
In the case of a silver mirror, this reflection occurs at the interface of glass to silver, essentially because the optical properties of the metal are very different from those of glass. (As a general rule, waves experience significant reflection at interfaces between media with substantially different propagation properties.) In the case of this silver mirror, there is also another, weaker reflection at the air/glass interface. In the end we obtain a reflected wave with essentially the same properties as the incident wave apart from some loss of power, which typically amounts to a few percent for silver mirrors.