Questions related to the perception and measurement of light (primarily in the visible range), its mathematical description, the reproduction of colors by different means, color combinations, etc. Please use the tag [electromagnetic-radiation] if you want to refer to the general form of light.

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273
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7answers
22k views

How does light bend around my finger tip?

When I close one eye and put the tip of my finger near my open eye, it seems as if the light from the background image bends around my finger slightly, warping the image near the edges of my blurry ...
239
votes
22answers
83k views

A mirror flips left and right, but not up and down

Why is it that when you look in the mirror left and right directions appear flipped, but not the up and down?
131
votes
7answers
10k views

Stupid yet tricky question: Why do we actually see the sun?

I haven't yet gotten a good answer to this: If you have two rays of light of the same wavelength and polarization (just to make it simple for now, but it easily generalizes to any range and all ...
128
votes
6answers
14k views

Why do shadows from the sun join each other when near enough?

I was laying on my bed, reading a book when the sun shone through the windows on my left. I happened to look at the wall on my right and noticed this very strange effect. The shadow of my elbow, when ...
125
votes
8answers
14k views

Could Legolas actually see that far?

The video “How Far Can Legolas See?” by MinutePhysics recently went viral. The video states that although Legolas would in principle be able to count $105$ horsemen $24\text{ km}$ away, he shouldn't ...
85
votes
2answers
4k views

Why is a laserpointer able to “erase” a glow-in-the-dark sticker?

a while ago I tried to charge a glow-in-the-dark sticker using a simple red laser pointer. It was a large sticker, of the type used to mark emergency exits and fire extinguishers here in Germany. I ...
79
votes
2answers
15k views

Why don't fluorescent lights produce shadows?

I have watched light sources such as incandescent lamps and other lamp sources; they have always made shadows. But a fluorescent lamp doesn't make any shadow. What is the reason behind the non-...
79
votes
2answers
4k views

Why does my wooden door disperse light into a rainbow color spectrum?

On a clear morning, light comes through this window (viewed from the inside) It then hits the door on the opposite side (so viewing from the outside the door straight on the other side) There is ...
71
votes
6answers
19k views

Why are most metals gray/silver?

Why do most metals (iron, tin, aluminum, lead, zinc, tungsten, nickel, etc.) appear silver or gray in color? (What atomic characteristics determine the color?) What makes copper and gold have ...
62
votes
11answers
23k views

Is it possible that there is a color our human eye can't see?

Is it possible that there's a color that our eye couldn't see? Like all of us are color blind to it. If there is, is it possible to detect/identify it?
62
votes
4answers
6k views

What is this shadow being cast upon?

The picture below is from on top of Mt. Shasta at sunrise. The sun was directly behind me when I took the picture and it appears to be casting a shadow on.... the sky itself? Can anyone explain ...
56
votes
5answers
11k views

Why is water clear?

Water appears transparent to visible light, yet most other objects are opaque. Why is that? Is there an explanation why water appears transparent? Is water transparent at all wavelengths, or are ...
55
votes
3answers
10k views

Why do beams of light (from torches or other directed sources) not extend to infinity?

When I'm in a dark environment, and I turn on a torch, I can see the beam of light from the torch. To the best of my understanding, the main reason why I can see the beam of light is that the light ...
53
votes
3answers
9k views

How is 6W equivalent to 40W, as claimed by adverts for LED light bulbs?

Every advert I come across for LED bulbs advertise them as the equivalent of a higher W incandescent bulbs. This makes no sense to me, if the room requires 40W to lighten it up then it'll always ...
52
votes
4answers
5k views

Why does the sun have to be nearly fully covered to notice any darkening in an eclipse?

I was looking at eclipse footage and I noticed that it doesn't get any noticeably darker until the very end when it suddenly all the light is gone. As the moon blocks out the Sun, I would expect that ...
52
votes
1answer
17k views

Why does a window become a mirror at night?

In day, when you look in the room through the window out, you can clearly see what happens outside. At night when it's dark outside but there's light inside you can look in the window but it becomes a ...
51
votes
4answers
4k views

Why does moonlight have a lower color temperature?

Moonlight has a color temperature of 4100K, while sunlight has a higher color temperature of more than 5000K. But objects illuminated by moonlight don't look yellower to the eye. They look bluer. ...
48
votes
3answers
7k views

Why doesn't light affect a compass?

In our daily life a lot of photons of visible light, infrared and radio etc move around us. We know that light is an electromagnetic radiation. So why doesn't that electromagnetic radiation affect a ...
48
votes
7answers
24k views

Why glass is transparent?

Once I asked this question from my teacher and he replied "because it passes light", "and why it passes light" I asked and he said "because it is transparent". Same question again, Why glass is ...
47
votes
3answers
21k views

Why is the sky not purple?

I realise the question of why this sky is blue is considered reasonably often here, one way or another. You can take that knowledge as given. What I'm wondering is, given that the spectrum of ...
46
votes
3answers
7k views

Why do electric sparks appear blue/purple?

Electric sparks tend to appear blue or purple or white in color. Why?
44
votes
7answers
3k views

Photons from stars--how do they fill in such large angular distances?

It would seem that far-away stars are at such a distance that I should be able to take a step to the side and not have the star's photons hit my eye. How do stars release so many photons to fill in ...
43
votes
6answers
6k views

Is there a physical reason for colors to be located in a very narrow band of the EM spectrum?

The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to humans are wavelengths between 380 and 750 nanometers. I am aware that animals have different capacities than humans, but the EM ...
43
votes
5answers
15k views

Why is the sky never green? It can be blue or orange, and green is in between!

I, like everybody I suppose, have read the explanations why the colour of the sky is blue: ... the two most common types of matter present in the atmosphere are gaseous nitrogen and oxygen. ...
42
votes
6answers
8k views

Where do photons go when they are absorbed?

The answer I usually get (and I'm paraphrasing here) is that they disappear and are instead absorbed as heat energy. But I find it hard to believe that the photon simply "disappears." Common sense ...
41
votes
9answers
6k views

How would night sky look like if the speed of light was infinite?

Would it be brighter? Different color? Gravitational lensing? Would black holes exist?
40
votes
6answers
6k views

If I am travelling on a car at around 60 km/h, and I shine a light, does that mean that the light is travelling faster than the speed of light?

The title says it all. If I was on a bus at 60 km/h, and I started walking on the bus at a steady pace of 5 km/h, then I'd technically be moving at 65 km/h, right? So my son posed me an interesting ...
40
votes
2answers
4k views

Why does light act differently in miniatures?

When painting miniatures (like RPG fantasy miniature soldiers)... why is it necessary to paint lights and shadows? Being a 3D object, shouldn't the natural light be enough to create lights and ...
38
votes
4answers
5k views

Do rainbows have ultraviolet bands and infrared bands?

We have seen that rainbows looks so colorful as we are only able to see only the visible light. But Do they also have ultraviolet bands and infra-red bands, that we are unable to see? I know someone ...
37
votes
9answers
12k views

Why can't we see gases?

I am not sure what causes gas molecules to be invisible.This question may look silly but I really want to know the story behind it.
37
votes
5answers
6k views

Why doesn't light kill me?

Why does each individual photon have such a low amount of energy? I am hit by photons all day and I find it amazing that I am not vaporized. Am I simply too physically big for the photons to harm me ...
36
votes
10answers
77k views

Why is light called an 'electromagnetic wave' if it's neither electric nor magnetic?

How can light be called electromagnetic if it doesn't appear to be electric nor magnetic? If I go out to the sunlight, magnets aren't affected (or don't seem to be). And there is no transfer of ...
36
votes
4answers
5k views

Why does a moving fan seem transparent?

We all know when fan starts moving faster, we cannot see its blades. Why is this? First I assumed persistence of vision may be the reason. But that can happen with blade also right? Image of blade ...
34
votes
8answers
10k views

Why can't we see light travelling from point A to B?

Let's say we have a cloud of dust which is a lightyear across and someone shoots a beam of light from point A to B , why it is not possible for an observer far far away to see the light while it ...
34
votes
8answers
6k views

Will we ever be able to view the past?

By analogy with the sun, whose light is apparently reaching us in 8 minutes, it means that we are only viewing the sun 8 minutes ago when we look up at it. However, what if we were eventually able to ...
33
votes
7answers
16k views

What is the difference between a white object and a mirror?

I was taught that something which reflects all the colors of light is white. The function of a mirror is the same, it also reflects all light. What's the difference? Update: But what if the white ...
33
votes
3answers
5k views

How does light speed up after coming out of a glass slab?

As I learned today in school, my teacher told me that when light enters a glass slab it slows down due to the change in density and it speeds up as it goes out of the glass slab. This causes a lateral ...
33
votes
3answers
10k views

Does a photon exert a gravitational pull?

I know a photon has zero rest mass, but it does have plenty of energy. Since energy and mass are equivalent does this mean that a photon (or more practically, a light beam) exerts a gravitational pull ...
32
votes
3answers
3k views

What do we see while watching light? Waves or particles?

I'm trying to understand quantum physics. I'm pretty familiar with it but I can't decide what counts as observing to cause particle behave (at least when it's about lights). So the question is what do ...
32
votes
3answers
15k views

Where does the light go when I turn off the light switch?

As above... Surely it must go somewhere? My child asked me this question and it was a difficult one to answer.
32
votes
2answers
6k views

Why is the sun brighter in Australia compared to parts of Asia?

Background: I've lived in Philippines for several years, and visited other parts of Asia occasionally (Singapore, Indonesia, Hongkong). I just moved to Western Australia a few months ago and I ...
31
votes
3answers
5k views

Can I use an antenna as a light source?

Can I use a normal metal antenna to emit visible light?
31
votes
4answers
5k views

Is there an infinite amount of wavelengths of light? Is the EM spectrum continuous?

The electromagnetic spectrum is a continuum of wavelengths of light, and we have labels for some ranges of these and numerical measurements for many. Question: Is the EM spectrum continuous such that ...
30
votes
4answers
8k views

What is the mechanism behind the slowdown of light/photons in a transparent medium?

So light travels slower in glass (for example) than in a vacuum. What causes light to slow down? Or: How does it slow down? If light passes through the medium, is it not essentially traveling in the "...
29
votes
3answers
6k views

Why are there no stars visible in this photograph?

Pluto and Charon, photo taken by New Horizons on July 8, 2015 from a distance of 6 gigameters. it's hard for me to believe there were no stars behind the twin dwarf planets in the field of vision. ...
29
votes
6answers
8k views

Can you run away from your shadow?

Now this might be a silly question but it's actually bugging me, this one might be easier to understand if you have kids that watch (or used to watch) Peppa Pig. In one of the episodes, about shadows, ...
29
votes
3answers
4k views

Why aren't all objects transparent?

I know that for an object to be transparent, visible light must go through it undisturbed. In other words, if the light energy is sufficiently high to excite one of the electrons in the material, ...
29
votes
4answers
4k views

Why does the sky change color? Why the sky is blue during the day, red during sunrise/set and black during the night?

Why does the sky change color? Why the sky is blue during the day, red during sunrise/set and black during the night?
28
votes
4answers
7k views

Why are stars white?

That is may be a easy question, but I am not a professional. The sun is a star and when I look at the sun is usually yellow. Why stars in the night are white? I suppose is for the distance. What is ...
28
votes
10answers
32k views

What determines color — wavelength or frequency?

What determines the color of light -- is it the wavelength of the light or the frequency? (i.e. If you put light through a medium other than air, in order to keep its color the same, which one would ...