Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Colored Shadows: Not all shadows are black

A prism breaks white sunlight up, spreading its component colors out into a spectrum of light visible to the human eye stretching from red through yellow, green and blue to violet. Scientists analyzing these colors find that they have a wave nature, and that one given wavelength of light is perceived as one color when viewed by a person. However, there are colors which do not occur in the spectrum, such as magenta. These colors can only be created when two different wavelengths hit the same spot on the retina at the same time. Without human perception there is no color magenta. Indeed, there is no white either. To understand the colors we must understand the human retina.
The retina of the human eye has three receptors for colored light: one type of receptor is most sensitive to red light, one to green light, and one to blue light. With these three color receptors we are able to perceive more than a million different shades of color.
When a red light, a blue light, and a green light are all shining on the screen, the screen looks white because these three colored lights stimulate all three color receptors on your retinas approximately equally, giving us the sensation of white.
With these three lights you can make shadows of seven different colors: blue, red, green, black, cyan (blue-green), magenta (a mixture of blue and red), and yellow (a mixture of red and green).

When red, R, green, G, and blue, B light shine onto the retina in roughly equal amounts, then humans perceive white, W. So we can say that W = R+G+B.

When red and green light shine on the screen, humans perceive yellow. So Y = R+G. Now yellow is also a color of the spectrum, which means that yellow is the color humans perceive when the retina is illuminated by a single wavelength of light. The single wavelength for yellow is between the wavelengths for red and green, and the yellow causes both the red and green cones to fire nerve impulses. The electrical signal sent to the brain when the eye is illuminated by one wavelength of yellow is similar to the signal sent to the brain by the combination of two wavelengths R+G.

Cyan, C, is a color of the spectrum. The wavelength of cyan light is midway between the wavelengths of blue and green. The crayon that used to be called blue-green is now called cyan, C. Cyan can also be created by adding blue light to green light. C = B+G.
When we mix blue and red light, our eye perceives the color magenta, M. Magenta is not a color of the spectrum: no single wavelength of light can produce the color sensation called magenta. M = R+B.

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