Tag Archives: Light

Why This Beetle Is Whiter Than Anything Human Technology Can Produce

If you ever visit Southeast Asia, you might come across the whitest thing you’ve ever seen.

And it’s not this guy:

“Double dream hands!”

It’s the Cyphochilus beetle, a beetle whose shell is whiter than even the whitest paper, the whitest snow, even the whitest paint.

In fact, it’s brighter than anything that human technology could create using a material as thin as the beetle does.

So what is this material? Well, it’s called chitin.

Chitin is similar to the cellulose, the main material in a plant’s cell wall. It forms complex, tightly-knit networks of filaments that build the shells of crustaceans and the exoskeletons of many insects.

A close-up of the chitin filament network on the Cyphochilus beetle’s shell. Click to enlarge (Image: Lorenzo Cortese)

But on it’s own, chitin is not a very good reflector of light at all, so researchers at the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy in Italy came together to try to uncover the secret behind the Cyphocilus beetle’s extraordinary brilliance.

What they found was that it was not the material itself that made the beetles look so white, but the geometric pattern in which the chitin filaments had arranged themselves.

A close-up of the beetle. Click to enlarge (Photo: P. Vukusic)

The colors we perceive come from the ways in which different colors of light reflect off of different materials.

However, the structure of the beetle’s shell reflects light anisotropically. This means that all the different colors of light get reflected in the same direction, which is why the shell appears to be such a brilliant white (mixing all of the colors of light gives you white light).

But unlike man-made reflectors, which tend to be fairly thick, the beetle’s individual scales are only thousandths of a millimeter thick. This keeps them light, minimizing the amount of energy the beetle has to expend while flying.

Read more from the New Scientist here.

How Ultraviolet Light Reveals All the Secrets Buried Just Below Your Skin (Video)

Ultraviolet or UV radiation is the radiation released by the sun. While the sun’s energy is obvious extremely important for our survival, the UV rays it emits can damage our skin over time.

Examining your skin through an ultraviolet lens can reveal things you never knew were there (a lot of people have freckles they can’t see).

It can also reveal changes and/or damage to the skin that is still invisible under normal light. Check it out in this awesome video posted by artist and photographer Thomas Leveritt:

This Guy’s Black Light Bodyscapes Might Be the Coolest Art I’ve Ever Seen (Photo Gallery)

“Cherish something different.”

This is the motto of John Poppleton, one of the most creative photographers and artists you will ever hear of.

John combines UV paints with black light photography to create breathtaking bodyscape images on his human canvases. You can check out some of his work below (click an image to enlarge).

John calls black light photogrpahy the “fourth dimension”. It allows him to use an invisible light source to turn his human subjects into the light source, which gives his photos amazing vibrance and depth.

You can watch this short bio video to learn more about the artist. You can also read a transcript of an interview he did with Petapixel here.

You can check out more of his work on his website here.

The Race Is On: Scientists Will Soon Convert Light Into Matter Via Einstein’s Famous Equation

Even if you couldn’t tell me the first thing about physics, you’re probably familiar with the equation E=mc2, Einstein’s famous theory of relativity that hypothesized (based off extensive observations) that light could be converted into matter and vice verse.

Then, in the 1930s, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler expanded on Einstein’s theory, arguing that it should be theoretically possible to accomplish this transformation using just two photons.

However, until very recently, it was thought that actually turning light into matter with just two photons was virtually impossible, since it would require colliding the two infinitesimally small light particles (which technically have no mass or volume) with one another, an extremely difficult task.

The breakthrough came in a scholarly article published in the journal Nature Photonics on May 18th which described a groundbreaking new “photon-collider”. The collider works by heating up a golden vacuum tube known as a hohlraum (a hohlraum is basically just a vacuum in which the radiative energy in the walls and the interior of the vacuum are at equilibrium).

As the hohlraum is heated, it begins emitting photons. Once there’s a significant “cloud” of photons in the hohlraum, a high energy laser is shot at another piece of gold. This laser heats up the gold target until it starts shooting gamma rays (photons) at extremely high speeds into the hohlraum.

Diagram of the photon-photon collider. Click to enlarge

If one of these high-energy photons collides with one of the photons in the hohlraum, the two annihilate one another, creating an electron and a positron, the electron’s antimatter equivalent which carries a positive charge (think of it as an anti-electron). Conversely, when an electron and a positron collide at high speeds, they annihilate to form pure energy, in the form of two photons.

Now that the process of colliding photons has been proven to be experimentally possible in the lab, physicists across the globe will be scrambling to be the first to successfully convert light into matter.

Somewhere, Einstein is smiling.

Read more from the L.A. Times here.

So There’s This Kid Making Solar “Death Rays” And They’re Pretty Sweet (Video)

Eric Jacqmain is just a creative guy who wanted a death ray. So, he decided to cover a satellite dish with 5,800 tiny mirrors. This is from his video description:

“When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 times normal daylight. This intensity of light is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant.”

The end of the description is both ironically hilarious and moderately worrying at the same time:

“Unfortunately, the R5800 was completely destroyed in a storage shed fire on December 14, 2010, about 8 months after filming this video. It has been replaced by the R23k, which has 23,000 mirrors and a concentration power of 10,000 times daylight.”

Hey, if death rays keep him interested in science then I’m all for it.

What Is A Blood Moon and Why Is It Happening Tonight During the Total Lunar Eclipse??

At exactly 8:58 p.m. CST (central time) tonight, the moon will move into Earth’s shadow. The total lunar eclipse, where the moon is completely shaded by the Earth, will start a little more than an hour later at 10:07 p.m. CST, and will last until approximately 11:25 p.m. CST.

The basics of a lunar eclipse (Courtesy of NASA)

You may have heard the term “blood moon” before. Whenever the moon passes into Earth’s shadow, it takes on a reddish color- it can be anywhere from a bright copper to a darker hue, like the color of dried blood. But what causes this?

Well, even when the Earth is between the sun and the moon, some of the light from all of the sunsets and sunrises happening around the rim of the Earth makes it to the moon’s surface. Here’s Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope magazine:

“If you were standing on the moon during a total lunar eclipse you would see the Earth as a black disk with a brilliant orange ring around it. And this brilliant ring would be bright enough to dimly light up the lunar landscape.”

It’s this ring of light which gives the moon its blood red color.

CGI image of what Earth would look like from the moon during a lunar eclipse

Tonight’s eclipse will be the first total lunar eclipse since December of 2011. It will be visible in its entirety across almost the entire continental United States, as well as in parts of Canada and Central America.

You can use the map below to figure out how much of the eclipse will be visible from where you are. Read more from the L.A. Times here.

Click to enlarge

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Takes Photo of a Strange Light on Mars

A photo recently captured by NASA’s Curiosity Rover has according to Space.com

“…set the Internet abuzz yet again about the possibility of life on Mars.”

Check out the photo that has created such a buzz below.

A bright flash of light appears to be visible in this image taken by the right-side navigation camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on April 3, 2014.
A bright flash of light appears to be visible in this image taken by the right-side navigation camera on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on April 3, 2014.

Although many UFO advocates are loving this photo and referring to it as evidence of extraterrestrial life, the rover’s handlers have made no such claims.

According to Space.com, they believe the light most likely came from a shiny rock or from,

“super-energetic cosmic rays slamming into the CCD device on Curiosity’s right-side navigation camera”.

Regardless of exactly what caused the light, the professionals don’t think it is anything too unusual so I’ll take their word for it.