Weather phenomenon of light pillars vs. northern lights

YouTuber and photographer Timmy Joe saw spectacular light pillars on an arctic January night from his northern Ontario home. He thought they were northern lights until he went to investigate. It's a totally different phenomenon, as he helpfully explains. Read the rest

XKCD reveals your visual perception quirks

Today's XKCD, "Visual Field," is a terrific mind-bender: a series of optical experiments to try with your computer's screen and a rolled-up piece of paper that demonstrate the quirks of your visual field: your blind-spots, your ability to perceive detail, night vision, the ability to perceive polarization, sprites and floaters, color perception and so on.

Visual Field Read the rest

Optical illusion tees look different depending on your perspective

Answersquestions sez, "These shirts designed by an Architecture professor friend of mine at Carnegie Mellon depend on perspective and distance in order to be seen. Check out that SKULL!"

Most tees are the same: splashy graphic or logo centered on a shirt for others to read. Vantage Tees are site-specific art pieces using optical illusions and body-specific effects to change everything about how people interact with their attire. Some shirts look different if you are looking at them or wearing them. Some ask you to be really close or really far. Others take time to see them. Vantage Tees will look different to everyone—it all depends on your vantage point.

Vantage Tees — Home (Thanks, Answersquestions!) Read the rest

What we don't understand about the speed of light

Last June, researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology published the results of an experiment that proved that light does not move faster than light—specifically, that single photons can't move faster than the official speed of light under certain conditions.

Today, Skulls in the Stars—the nom de Internet of a UNC Charlotte physics professor—has a really great blog post up about this paper. It's very much worth a read. After all, this was basically a test to double check something we were already pretty sure was true. And what's the benefit to proving something you already knew?

A big part of why I'm recommending this post is because Skulls in the Stars does a good job of explaining some tangly optical physics in a way that is quite clear and should make good sense even if you don't have a deep background in this stuff. If you follow along, you'll come away with a good idea of why this particular study matters, and with a deeper understanding of the speed of light itself.

Let’s talk about how we measure the speed of an object first. If we’re looking at the motion of a rigid object, like a speeding car or a thrown baseball, the speed can be determined simply by measuring how much time it takes for an object to travel a distance. The speed is simply the distance divided by the time

There’s a small subtlety to this definition: cars and baseballs are extended objects!

Read the rest