The Science of Color

Imagine it is night time, completely dark, and you can’t see anything. You are walking down a street, and you see the bright glowing sign of a subway. How do you think your eyes can see the green and yellow colors from that sign? Are objects actually the color they reflect? Which colors can we not see? Light is what causes us to see color, let me explain.

When light hits an object, its wavelengths can be absorbed by the object or reflected. These wavelengths are colors and as they are absorbed by an object, the colors absorbed can’t be shown (reflected). When a color is reflected, like apples reflect the color red, that means that the apple has absorbed all the wavelengths except red. If an object appears to be white, it is reflecting all the wavelengths hitting it, and if it appears to be black, it is absorbing them all.This means that red is not in an apple, but that the surface of the apple is reflecting the wavelengths we see as red.

The human eye and brain together, translate light into color. Light receptors in our eyes transmit messages to the brain, which causes us to see them. The human eye can’t actually perceive all the colors. Birds, fish, and many other mammals perceive the full spectrum of wavelengths. Some insects, like bees, can even see ultraviolet colors which we can’t. The perception of colors is also one of nature’s favorite survival mechanisms, like color camouflage. This survival mechanism depends on the ability of a predator to differentiate colors. The predator is expected to be deceived by the color matching of their prey, such as chameleons or certain owls.

You might have heard this before, but until recently, it was thought that dogs could not see any color at all, only shades. However, recent studies have shown that dogs can differentiate between red and blue while also being able to see small differences in shades of blue and violet. So it might actually be good to wear red and blue to stand out in the eyes of your dog.

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