Can Color Exist in the Dark?

Can Color Exist in the Dark (c) tlr3automatonColors add beauty and variety to the world around us. They are pleasant from every perspective – expect the dark. After all, color cannot be seen without light. Or can it?

Color is created when light reflects an object. Light waves cause this to occur and the frequencies at which they travel, fast or slow, determines color. For instance, red has a low frequency while purple has a high frequency. If there is no light, there can be no light waves and color cannot be seen.

This is true most of the time. There is only one exception: items that glow in the dark.

Glow in the Dark

Glow in the dark products contain phosphors. These chemical substances are known for their luminescent qualities. All phosphors have three characteristics. These traits include:

  • They need to be charged. Different glow in the dark objects require different types of energy to become charged. (This is why some items need to be held up to a light before glowing in the dark.)
  • Phosphors contain the “color of visible light that they produce.”
  • The persistence of the phosphor (or the length of time the product will glow).

After becoming charged, a phosphor will illuminate. This item can be seen in the dark where other colors cannot be seen.

We Use Phosphors Every Day

Toys “R” Us seems like the keeper of all-things glow in the dark. In everyday life these items seem far and few between. But adults use phosphors every day.

Television screens, computer monitors, and fluorescent lights all have phosphors. TV screens actually have thousands of phosphors that emit red, green, and blue. Fluorescent lights have many color combinations that make light look white.

Charging Items to Glow in the Dark

The charge that generates TV and lights comes from electricity. But other phosphors use different types of energy to charge. Much of the time, natural energy is used.

For instance, glow in the dark toys are often energized by normal light. To capture this charge and maintain it for some time, two phosphors are common: Zinc Sulfide and Stontium Aluminate. These chemical substances can be mixed in with plastic to create a toy that glows.

Some glow in the dark items do not need any charge. Take watches for example; a watch may use a combination of a phosphor and radioactive element. The radioactive part can continually charge the phosphor.

With phosphors, light can thrive in the dark. Better yet, items can glow.

Image made available by  tlr3automaton on Flickr through Creative Commons Licenses.

Read more Segmation blog posts about “Out of the Box” Art:

Art Illuminates Science

The Op-Art of Josef Albers

Art and Science – A Genius Combination

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4 thoughts on “Can Color Exist in the Dark?

  1. notes to the milkman

    Your opening paragraphs made my brain rewind about forty years when I was studying colour as part of my Associateship of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (ASDC) qualification. I remember a demonstration by one of our lecturers who in an almost totally dark lecture room showed us various coloured objects. We could see them, but only in shades of grey. This demonstrated that the sensors in our eyes which respond to colours need more light than the ones which allows us to see in very low light levels.

  2. XperDunn

    I always love this subject. We think we see a thing, but we don’t see anything. All we see is the light reflected off of a thing. Color, as an experience, is the refractory nature of the thing reflecting the light. Weee..

  3. M. R.

    Bloody interesting! – I never cease to be amazed at what I come across in the blogs I follow. This I attribute to my exceptionally good taste in choosing ’em! [grin]


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