Considering how much we depend on it, the human sense of sight is shockingly limited -- you can thwart it with nothing more than darkness, fog, or a handful of thrown sand. Thanks to technology, though, we're now able to enhance our vision to see atoms, faraway planets, and even people's thoughts. But that stuff's only the beginning. There are all sorts of previously unseen worlds which science is now opening up to us for the first time, and some of them are weird as hell.
#5. New Software Reveals A Hidden Realm Of Bizarre Details
Fun fact: Every time your heart beats, your skin flushes red with fresh blood just a tiny bit. Go ahead, take a look. If you're reading this on a bus, stare intently at the person next to you and see if you can spot the subtle, rhythmic blush. If you don't get immediately sprayed with Mace, then chances are you won't ever see a thing, because the color change is so small that it's pretty much invisible. But now, optics researchers at MIT have released an open-source program called Eulerian Video Magnification, which takes ordinary videos and magnifies those microscopic changes to show you what you're missing. The results range from merely odd to downright terrifying.
New York Times/MIT CSAIL
For example, there's the fact that people are walking raves.
But EVM works on more than colors; it picks up on subtle movements, too. As you can see in this video, even when you're sitting still, the pumping action of your heart is enough to make your head jiggle like you're sitting on an enormous speaker with the bass turned up:
And it's not just your face. When you look closely, the entire world around you is alive with imperceptible movements, from the hellish air vortexes created by candle flames ...
... to how sound turns an ordinary wine glass into rubber.
And behold the miracle of life, as a pregnant woman's belly becomes the gateway through which nameless horrors slither into our universe from foreign dimensions:
And like that, "Abstinence Only" suddenly makes a lot of sense.
If you want to see more, the folks at MIT have set up a website where you can upload and magnify your own videos, in case you've ever wanted to experience Alice In Wonderland-style hallucinations without French-frying your brain cells with pharmaceuticals.
#4. Infrared Reflectography Sees The Ghosts Of Lost Paintings
This is Pablo Picasso's The Blue Room:
Or as it would have been titled today, Nude Blonde Teen Amateur Hot Sexy Shower Wet Boobs Naked.
Experts long suspected that The Blue Room was painted over an earlier piece, but stripping off layers of paint to see what was underneath was obviously out of the question, since it's rather hard to get the paint back on there exactly the way it was. So instead, in 2008, scientists peeled back the layers virtually through infrared reflectography. By using a light that reflects off of paint layers below the surface, they found that buried inside Blue Room's azure walls is a dejected man, aptly looking like the sort of guy who would spy on girls showering.
We don't need the audio-reconstructing algorithm to hear him breathing heavily.
Why did Picasso do this? Because he had no money to buy a new canvas, so it was either painting over one of his old works or eating them. The world was going to lose a Picasso either way, until technology kind of saved it.
But sometimes, experts uncover secrets we were never meant to see, like in Georges Seurat's Young Woman Powdering Herself -- or as it was originally known before the author came to his senses, Self-Portrait Of Georges Seurat Spying On A Woman Like A Creep.
"Nipples ... so close ... hnnnngggghhh."
Of course, looking under the surface of a well-preserved painting is child's play compared to, say, reading an ancient Roman scroll that was torched by a freaking volcano. Which is exactly what one Dr. Vito Mocella did. By using a 3D X-ray technique typically used for breast exams, Dr. Mocella was able to digitally "unroll" the carbonized papyrus and scan it for the telltale bumps where traces of ink lay on the surface. The effort didn't yield much more than a handful of letters, but holy shit, we read stuff from a petrified volcano turd.
#3. Compressed Ultrafast Photography Allows Us To See Light Moving Through Space
Steve Griffin/Hemera/Getty Images
Light is the fastest thing in the known universe. It's so fast that by the time we fumble with our camera and get it set up, light has already fucked off to a place millions of miles away. Not to say that it's impossible to capture the movement of light on film. But it requires a cutting-edge imaging technique called "compressed ultrafast photography" (CUP).
Liang Gao, Jinyang Liang, Chiye Li & Lihong V. Wang
One beam, one cup.
As its name implies, compressed ultrafast photography is, like, really really fast. We're talking 100 billion frames per second fast. For reference, a movie plays at 24 frames per second, so the difference between this and a movie is the difference between a regular movie and a movie that pauses for 15 months in between frames, and which would take more than 200,000 years to watch in its entirety.
The secret is in the way the video is encoded. Basically, mirrors and sensors are used to gather the absolute least amount of information necessary from incoming photons, because less data makes the recording process much, much faster. In fact, it works so quickly that it can capture particle effects that are apparently happening faster than the speed of light.
Liang Gao, Jinyang Liang, Chiye Li & Lihong V. Wang
This is where the demons dance.
An earlier imaging system claimed even faster speeds to catch light in action -- up to a trillion frames per second. But despite being technically faster, the older method required you to repeat the same light flashes over and over for hours and then edit together a supercut of all the recordings. It kinda sounds like cheating, and it's no good for studying light phenomena that only happen once, but damned if their videos aren't super neat to watch:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Yeah, that's a pulse of light traveling through a plastic Coke bottle.