Category Archives: Colour Out of Space

Lovecraftian Scientists: The Scientists in “The Colour Out of Space” or also known as Scientists Behaving Badly

Colour_IgorVitkovskly The Colour by Igor Vitkovskly

Crawford Tillinghast was a vengeful mad scientist, while Herbert West was cool and calculating, willing to use anyone as a test subject for his reanimation experiments.  However, of the Lovecraftian scientists reviewed to date, the scientists in “The Colour Out of Space” are probably the most dangerous. Instead of being individual “mad scientists” the scientists in “The Colour Out of Space” are elitists and do not have that critical, open minded attitude required in science. Put another way by Carl Sagan, “It pays to keep an open mind but not so open your brains fall out.”

In “The Colour Out of Space” a meteor falls to Earth, landing on farmland owned by Nahum Gardner. Nahum and his wife bring three professors from Miskatonic University to the farm to examine the meteor the day after it arrives. Nahum said the meteor shrank in size and in spite of having some physical evidence to back this claim (“It had shrunk, Nahum said as he pointed out the big brownish mound above the ripped earth and charred grass near the archaic well-sweep in his front yard…”) the professors simply stated “…stones do not shrink.” Thus, the professors would not even entertain or consider the idea that Nahum may be correct, even with the supporting evidence.


The professors collect a sample of the meteor and place it in a pail since it is still generating heat almost a day after it landed on the farm.  Even when Ammi Pierce’s wife notes that the fragment appears to be burning and getting smaller in the pail, the professors still think nothing of the claim that the meteor is shrinking. Their response to Ms. Pierce’s observation of the shrinking sample was “…perhaps they had taken less than they thought.” This total disregard to observations made by non-scientists is a form of professional elitism that is more extreme than that of the protagonist in “Beyond the Walls of Sleep.”

The professors take the sample back to Miskatonic University to run a series of physical and chemical tests with very baffling results. I have reviewed the science behind these tests in previous articles reviewing the “The Colour Out of Space,” so such matters are not discussed here. After the strange results of their tests on the meteorite sample, the three scientists return to the Gardner Farm and visit the impact site once again. Now they final admit that the meteorite is shrinking, noting that its diameter was not barely five feet even though the previous day it was seven feet.


When the scientists collect another sample, they gouge more deeply into the meteorite and uncover a strange globule that has the same strange colour found when they heated and placed the first sample under a spectroscope. One of the professors hits the globule with a hammer and it bursts with a “nervous little pop.” Nothing visible was emitted and no other globules were found in the meteorite. The scientist take the second sample to the laboratories at Miskatonic, run some more tests but still could not identify the exact composition of the sample and “…at the end of the tests the college scientists were forced to own that they could not place it. It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws.”

IMG_2687                                                 An illustration of some of the chemical tests run by the Miskatonic University scientists in the Necronomicon Press (2015) chapbook of “The Colour Out of Space.” Illustration by Jason C. Eckhardt

By the third visit, after an evening thunderstorm, none of the meteorite was left – it completely vanished. At this point the scientists just give up and lose interest, which shocks me. Any other scientist that I know would have at least sampled the surrounding soil and test it to see if it emitted the same strange colour as the meteorite. This would have at least supported the hypothesis that the meteorite somehow contaminated the soil with some type of volatile compound, which may also contaminate the associated groundwater. However, after all of the direct physical evidence disappeared so did the Miskatonic scientists.

Even in the following spring when some of the locals brought to their attention that the skunk-cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) were exhibiting some abnormal growth and possessed some strange colours, the scientists’ response was, “The plants were certainly odd, but all skunk-cabbages are more or less odd in shape and odour and hue. Perhaps some mineral element from the stone had entered the soil, but it would soon be washed away.” Really? Skunk-cabbage is a strange looking plant that is foul-smelling and is one of the first plants to be observed leafing out near streams and in wetlands in late winter / early spring. However, it does not emit a strange colour. None of the scientists from Miskatonic hypothesized that the meteorite may have contaminated the soil and groundwater, after hearing about the skunk-cabbage emitting a strange colour?

Skunk Cabbage                    Skunk-cabbages emerging from the ground in early spring

I find the absence of any measurable degree of curiosity by the Miskatonic scientists to be absolutely stunning. The meteor hit the Gardner Farm in June so the student body was home for the summer. By spring, classes were back in session. Is it possible that the scientists had a passing interest in the meteorite because they had more time on their hands over the summer months but once the academic year began this interest waned? If true, find this explanation sad to say the least.

The scientists continued to express their lack of scientific curiosity through the rest of the story, and part of this can be attributed to an “ivory tower” attitude that the reports coming from the Gardner Farm was just superstitious folklore. Even toward the end of the tale when an investigation team was assembled to inspect the farm, none of the Miskatonic scientists were involved. The team comprised of Ammi Pierce (neighbor of the Gardner’s), three police officers, the County coroner, a medical examiner and the veterinarian who treated the Gardner animals. Were the Miskatonic scientists so ineffective in their past dealings with the meteorite and its impacts that no one even bothered to ask them to join the investigation?

the_colour_out_of_space_by_verreaux-d59u4pb The Colour Out of Space by Verreaux (

Finally, when samples of the residual dust left on the farm was taken to Miskatonic University, it gave off the same colorimetric spectrum observed under the spectroscope as the meteorite samples. This supported the idea of some ecological contamination. I completely understand that ecosystem ecology was in its infancy in the early 20th century, but this is some pretty compelling data to support the idea that the mortality associated with the farm was directly attributed to the meteorite and the idea that any mineral element would simply be washed away as being incorrect. Thus, it is surprising to me that there is no additional sampling or concern over more widespread contamination.

To conclude, I find the scientists in “The Colour Out of Space” to be the worst in their profession, at least within the tales of Lovecraft. They have a very disparaging attitude toward non-scientists, possess no natural scientific curiosity and were extremely ineffective in terms of providing any sort of construction guidance over the occurrences at the farm. The Miskatonic scientists were confronted with something outside of our reality or at least within the realm of our understanding of physical / chemical laws and instead of trying to understand it they simply gave up when back to grading papers. Such a lack of curiosity and concern over the environment or individuals can lead to variety of problems such as the spread of invasive species or the contamination of drinking water. Thus, I find the three scientists from Miskatonic University in Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” to the be most dangerous of all of his scientists.

untitled2                   Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” by Asahi Superdry (

Next time we are going to begin a detailed, chapter by chapter review of the science associated with At the Mountains of Madness, where some Miskatonic University scientists are shown in a better light. Thank you and Happy New Year! Fred

So What Exactly is the Colour Out of Space?


Artwork for the H.P. Lovecraft’s Historical Society’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presentation of “The Colour Out of Space” (artwork by Darrell Lee Tuchton)

Over the past few weeks we have reviewed some of the physical and chemical properties of the Colour in HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space,” as well as its ecological and health-related impacts but what exactly is the Colour? This article is will conclude this discussion with some proposed hypotheses as to what the Colour may be. As explicitly conveyed by HPL the Colour is so alien and originates from outside of our space-time that attempting to categorize it is extremely difficult. Therefore, three basic hypotheses are proposed for consideration. It is hoped that if in the future humanity encounters the Colour, it can be studied in a controlled environment, or at least observed from a safe distance. However, for now the scant amount of data collected by the professors from Miskatonic University and the documented observations made by Ammi Pierce and others has to suffice.

First Hypothesis – the Colour is some unusual property or natural phenomenon, if not of our space-time than of another. Of the three hypotheses being proposed here, this is the most unlikely giving how the Colour did not behave as a natural property or force. For example, the Colour is frequently compared to an alien form of ionizing radiation; however, ionizing radiation is a property of matter, generating a radiation field that emanates from that material. While this seemed to be the case with the meteorite, after the Colour was released, it quickly dissipated. Thus, the unusual properties appeared to originate primarily from the Colour within the meteorite; once the Colour was released, it entered the groundwater.


The Colour by LudvikSKP (

As it was revealed toward the end of the tale, the common link to the Colour affecting the local environment, the farm and the Gardner family was water – specifically groundwater. However, the Colour did not behave as a typical groundwater contaminate. While is does appear that the Colour followed the “flow” of groundwater, we have no data to support the idea that it only flowed downgradient of where the meteorite hit, which is what a chemical contaminate would do. More importantly, there is no evidence to support the idea that the “concentration” of the Colour declined over distance as it traveled within the groundwater, which it what you expect from a chemical contaminate. Typically, the point of groundwater contamination has the highest concentration and as it moves through the groundwater as a plume, it declines in concentration and affect. The Colour did not behave like this; its impact was consistent throughout its area of impact. This suggests that it was actually targeting a specific area of impact.

Finally, while the Colour is frequently compared to radioactivity, it certainly did not behave like a ionizing radioactive substance. The impact of radioactivity is similar to the impact of chemical contamination as described above; its impact will decline with distance. Again, the impact to the farm and local environment appeared to be very delineated. More importantly, it should be noted that radioactivity does not glow like the Colour did; ionizing radioactivity is invisible to the human eye. However, some substances will glow once they are exposed to ionizing radioactive material. The Colour Out of Space did not make specific or select material glow; it made everything glow, particularly living organisms and organic matter. Again, this property is very different from known ionizing radioactivity. Based on this information, it is unlikely that the Colour is some type of natural phenomenon from outside of our space-time or reality.


The Colour Out of Space from a comic by Erik Kriek

Second Hypothesis – the Colour is some type of technology from another alien or extra-dimensional civilization. Maybe the Colour is some type of message, like the gold record on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft; a way for an alien civilization to say “hello” and maybe they are so alien that contact with this “greeting” resulted in the death of our living, organic matter. More so than a message, the Colour may be some type of probe searching our universe for life. The devastating impacts it had on the Gardner Farm and adjacent woodlands may have been a methodical means of sampling alien ecosystems such as ours, harvesting all of its DNA and proteins, leaving alkaline phosphates and carbonates, as cited when the remains of Merwin and Zenas were found at the bottom of the well.

A copy of the gold record placed on Voyager 1 and 2 (

It is also possible that the Colour is a type of inter-dimensional weapon, designed to clear a world of all of its indigenous organisms and ecosystems. However, there is very little data to support this hypothesis. The impacts of the Colour appeared to be limited to the five acres of the farm and associated woodlands – the blasted heath. However, there is one tantalizing bit of information that may indicate that the Colour was some type of weapon. Toward the end of the story it was noted…”the country notion that the blight is spreading – little by little, perhaps an inch a year.” Thus, the Colour may be slowly digesting or destroying the world at a rate of an inch of year. While this may seem extremely slow, this rate may appear to be a brief period of time relative to the makers of the Colour.

Third Hypothesis – the Colour may be some type of alien or extra-dimensional life. Of the three hypotheses, I believe this is the one that has the highest amount of support. The Colour did not behave like some sort of chemical contaminant; it appeared to impact a very delineated piece of land in a somewhat conscious manner, using the groundwater to move through the associated food webs.   Later, as the Colour impacted the wildlife, farm and Gardner family, it appeared to “feed” as some type of disease, producing strange aberrations and mutations but eventually ending with the same outcome – the dissection of all life and organic matter into dry, brittle, grey ash. While we have no idea if the Colour would be considered sentient, as least how we use the term, it is possible that the Colour can be described as some type of “quantum life.”

Since all matter in our universe is composed of atoms, which are made of more elementary particles such as electrons and quarks, everything including life has a quantum component. However, at our spatial and temporal scales, gravity and electromagnetism are the more important natural forces for the functions of life. However, some biological processes may be explained as a quantum activity. For example, mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of all eukaryotic cells, uses electrons moving through a chain of intermediate molecules of adenosine triphosphate to generate energy. The measured rate of this biochemistry is substantially faster than what is predicted. This discrepancy could be explained through quantum biochemistry. Another example of quantum biology is in photosynthesis where a photon of light can simultaneously flow through every component of the antenna proteins that surround the chlorophyll, which would increase the rate of photosynthesis. These examples provide evidence of how quantum processes can be observed and eventually predict natural biological activities.


The Colour Out of Space by Virgil Finlay

So what does this have to do with the Colour Out of Space? Well, the Colour may operate on a purely quantum level. In fact, the Colour may be such an extreme form of quantum life that it may be difficult to even obtain consistent observations on it. For example, as the Colour began to leave the well it was noted, “At this point, as the column of unknown colour flared suddenly stronger and began to weave itself into fantastic suggestions of shape which each spectator later described differently…” This may support the idea of the Colour operating and existing completely under quantum forces.

The final suggestion that the Colour may be a strange form of life is based on what Ammi may have seen when he looked back at the farm as he and the others escaped. “And from that stricken, far-away spot he had seen something feebly rise, only to sink down again upon the place from which the great shapeless horror had shot into the sky.” What this the Colour reproducing. Possibly depositing a spore or seed to germinate sometime in the future? Possibly.

We may never know what the Colour was. It may simply be too alien for humans to comprehend. I think the penultimate paragraph of the tale summarizes this:

“What it is, only God knows. In terms of matter I suppose the thing Ammi described would be called a gas, but this gas obeyed laws that are not of our cosmos. This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observations. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem to vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space – a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes.”


Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” by Asahi Superdry (

Next time we will review and discuss the biology of the ghoul. Later as we move into spring, we will analyze and discuss “The Dunwich Horror.”

Finally, I do want to thank everyone who contributed to our Kickstarter ( We reached our first threshold and so expanded the periodical “The Biology of the Elder Things” to be “The Biology of the Elder Things and the Shoggoths” for a second threshold and that one was reached. Again, thank you to everyone who has contributed! Fred.

The Human-Health Related Impacts of the Colour Out of Space




The Colour Out of Space by Mech Han (

Previously we reviewed the environmental impacts of the Colour out of space. This discussion reviews the human health-related impacts of the Colour.

As previously mentioned, within a few months of the meteor hitting the Earth on the Gardner Farm, Nahum was complaining about feeling very tired and rationalizing it as his age catching up with him. However, throughout the fall and into winter the Gardner family in general appeared to be tired and unresponsive to the other members of the community. Were these the initial symptoms of something similar to radiation poisoning?

By spring the Gardner family thought they were suffering from hallucinations but it appears this was not case. The strange colors and visions, the swaying of the trees in the absence of wind were not manifestations of their minds. These appeared to be real events. However by June, approximately one year after the meteor’s fall, Ms. Gardner begins to go mad. It was initially manifested as her screaming about things in the air she could not describe. This was not limited to strange sites but also strange sounds. “Things moved and changed and flutter, and ears tingled to impulses which were not wholly sounds.” She also appeared to be wasting away, almost as if she was fasting.


The impact of the “Colour disease” from a comic by Erik Kriek

Nahum would not send her to the County asylum; instead she was allowed to wander around the farm. She did not appear to be a threat to her or her family. However, when the boys grew afraid of her and one of them – Thaddeus – nearly fainted at the strange and contorted face his mother made, Nahum locked her in the attic. As the “Colour disease” progressed in Nahum’s wife, she began to have spells and fits of screaming. A visit from Ammi, a neighboring farmer and friend of the Gardner’s, revealed that the well water had a salty and strange taste to it; again more evidence to support that the Colour moved through the Gardner farm and its associated ecosystem through the groundwater. In spite of Ammi’s warnings not to drink the well water, the Gardner family continued to drink it “listlessly and mechanically as they ate their meagre and ill-cooked meals and did their thankless and monotonous chores through the aimless days.” In addition, it was reported that they, “walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain and familiar doom.” Again, more symptoms of something like radiation poisoning?

By September Thaddeus’s mind snapped. He went to the well for water and came running back whispering about “the moving colours down there.” Eventually Thaddeus had to be locked in another attic room, across the hall from his mother’s. Thaddeus and his mother screamed at each other in what appeared to be some strange alien language. This had a terrible impact on the family, in particular the youngest son Merwin.

Thaddeus finally succumbed to the disease and poor Nahum had to bury him in the back. Merwin now started to scream with his mother faintly answering him. A few days later Merwin disappeared; he when to the well at night to fetch some water and never came back. There was a scream from the well but not trace of Merwin or his lantern. Later the lantern was found and both it and the well’s pail were crushed and appeared to be melted, yet there was no evidence of intense heat. Was this the result of some type of high energy radiation?


What happened to the Gardner boys when they approached the well?  From a comic by Erik Kriek

In November Ammi once again visited the Gardner farm, finding Nahum very weak and lying on a couch in the kitchen. He was still conscious and able to talk to his remaining son Zenas, who was nowhere to be found. Nahum appeared delusional, asking if the fire in the fireplace made the room comfortable for Ammi when there was no fire burning. When asked about his son, Nahum said he lives in the well. Ammi then went to attic to check on Nahum’s wife. She appeared be a withered, husk of a thing that slowly approached Ammi had she crumbled away.


The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (

Something grazed Ammi while he was upstairs and when he returned to Nahum, he too was slowly eroding away into dry, grey fragments. Before Nahum died he did tell Ammi that indeed it was the Colour that did this; it burns cold and wet. He described it as a smoke that sucked the life out of everything. He also said it was in the well water; beats down your mind and burns you up from the inside. Ammi also found out that Zenas went to the well like Merwin and never came back. Nahum’s last words were, “…sucks the life out…” and then his body completely caved in.


The final stages of the Colour disease from the 2010 German film “The Color Out of Space”

HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space” is frequently cited as modern, cautionary tale of the potential dangers of radioactivity. Indeed, in a previous article we provided some information on how the health problems associated with the use of radium in the manufacturing industry and the associated reporting of these problems may have been read by HPL. However, when comparing the early and later symptoms of radiation sickness to how the Colour affected the Gardner family, there is not a substantial amount of overlap between the two.

According to the Mayo Clinic the early symptoms of radiation sickness include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headache and fever. When the symptoms are first manifested is based on the degree or amount of exposure, however all are between 10 minutes and within 24 hours. Later symptoms of radiation sickness include dizziness and disorientation, weakness and fatigue, as well as hair loss, bloody vomit and stools, infections, poor wound healing and low blood pressure. These later symptoms can occur immediately or take as long as four weeks to be exhibited depending on the degree of exposure (

Nose bleeds and the inability to heal wounds are some of the later symptoms of radiation sickness (iStock photo from


A girl suffering hair loss from the affects of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 (

With the exception of some of the later symptoms of radiation sickness such as dizziness and disorientation, weakness and fatigue, there is actually very little overlap in the symptoms of radiation sickness and the “Colour disease.” In radiation sickness there is loss of hair, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and internal / external bleeding. In the Colour disease the body is very slowly wasted away, there is no indication that the individual is more prone to infections and the body eventually turns to a grey, brittle ash. In addition, the symptoms of radiation sickness appear over a relatively short period of time, from upon immediate exposure to within a month. In contrast, it took over a year for the Colour disease to run its course.

As others have noted, such as the Grim Blogger (, the symptoms of large scale radiation poisoning was more than likely not a major influence on HPL’s tale; mainly because the story was written before the nuclear age was in full swing. However, I think we living in the post-nuclear era see the strange glowing colors and the wasting away of all living biomass as an interpretation of the impacts of radiation poisoning. Most notable is the blasted heath, which reminds many of the devastating impacts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The blasted health was described as “five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields…” It was also covered with a grey ash that was never blown away by the wind. No wonder we think of the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken in 1945 after the atomic bombs were dropped.


Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata (

Next time we will be wrapping up our discussion on “The Colour Out of Space.” Also, I want to thank everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign. We made our goal with 28 days to go (! Steve and I are thinking of an added bonus to offer if we hit another established threshold. However, we are working on this and an announcement will be made sometime in the near future. Again, thank you one and all for contributing!  Fred


The blasted heath in “The Colour Out of Space” by Pixx 73 (

The Ecological Impacts of the Colour Out of Space


Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” by King Ov Rats (

The impact the Colour had on Terran life will be discussed in three separate articles, to be posted over the following week. This article will review and discuss the ecological impacts of the Colour. The second article will focus on the direct impact the Colour had on the Gardner family. The third article will focus more on the un-Earthly glow of the Colour and its associated impacts.

There are two types of radiation in our universe – non-ionizing and ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation is essentially any type of electromagnetic (EM) radiation that does not carry enough energy to completely remove an electron off an atom or molecule. Thus, non-ionizing radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared and visible light. These are low frequency, long wavelength types of EM radiation. In contrast, ionizing radiation, which has higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths, does have enough energy to strip electrons off atoms or molecules and can even break chemical bonds. Thus, it is the ionizing radiation, which includes UV light, x-rays and gamma rays that can produce the health hazards associated with radiation, such as genetic damage, cancer and radiation sickness.


Non-ionizing and ionizing radiation (

In HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space” after an evening thunderstorm, where lightning struck in the immediate area where of the meteorite, nothing was left of it and its associated strange color. This event occurred in late spring (June), followed by a particularly hot summer. However, a few weeks after the meteorite disappeared Nahum already began to feel that…”labor tired him more than it had in other years, and he felt that age was beginning to tell on him.” Was this the initial signs of some type of radiation poisoning?

The meteor from “The Colour Out of Space by Michael Bukowski (

As summer moved into fall and harvest time began, the fruit on the Gardner farm grew to “phenomenal size and unwonted gloss.” In addition, there was such an abundance of fruit Nahum ordered extra barrels. However, while the fruit were big and beautiful, none of it was fit to eat. It had a very bitter taste that resulted in producing a feeling of disgust. All of Nahum’s fruits and vegetable that were grown in soil immediately adjacent and downgradient to where the meteorite fell were poisoned in a similar manner. Based on these observations, it is hypothesized that the Colour somehow got into the groundwater and was assimilated by the resident vegetation and crops. The fact that the upland cropland appeared to be uncontaminated provides additional support to this hypothesis.

Over the winter the resident wildlife appeared to be affected by the Colour as well. Reports of strange looking red squirrels, white rabbits and foxes were made. These animals appeared to be exhibit strange anatomical abnormalities and even their movements appeared bizarre and erratic. Obviously, whatever was impacting the vegetation was also impacting the animals. Based on the available evidence the Colour may have been directly impacting the animal life the same way it was affecting the vegetation (as a type of radiation exposure) or it may have been transferred through the food web, from the water through the vegetation and into the animals.


Mutated rabbit by Michael Bukowski (


Mutated fox by Michael Bukowski (

In the spring the snow appeared to melt faster at the Gardner farm, the vegetation emerged prematurely and had strange shapes and colors. HPL has an amusing note regarding skunk cabbage, saying “The plants were certainly odd, but all skunk-cabbages are more or less odd in shape and odour and hue.” Skunk cabbage is one of the earliest annual plants and it is a strange looking plant; holds up to its common name. In any event, both the native vegetation and the orchard trees grew in bizarre growth patterns and had blossomed in strange colors. HPL referred to this as “chromatic perversion.”

The flower of Skunk Cabbage (Sympiocarpus foetidus; from

Nahum did not farm the impacted fields and instead focused on the uplands, hoping the contaminated soil would purge itself of the strange contaminant. In May the insects came and looked as abnormal and bizarre as the wildlife. In addition, the boughs of the trees actually appeared to move or sway, in spite of the absence of wind. The vegetation also started to emit a kind of phosphorescence in the evening hours.

The swaying, phosphorescent trees in “The Colour Out of Space (from

These impacts were not limited to the local wildlife and vegetation. By the end of May the milk of the Gardner cows went bad, which appeared to be linked to the phosphorescence of the grass beginning earlier in the month. By the summer all of the local vegetation was slowly dying, becoming grey and brittle. This included the strange colored flowers around the house. The horses bolted one night from the barn and were completely unmanageable, refusing to go back to the farm; they had to be put down. The bizarre puffy insects started to die off as well and the honeybees left their hives.

By September all of the vegetation was crumbling to a greyish powder. Nahum’s livestock went bad as well. The chickens turned grey and quickly died, while the hogs became unusually fat and exhibited strange anatomical aberrations, similar to the wildlife, before they died as well. It should be noted that the hogs were not fed any of the contaminated vegetation, which indicates that the transfer of the Colour was not from plant to animal but more than likely through the water supply. The cows suffered a similar fate as the hogs, exhibiting strange anatomical transformations but eventually succumbing to the greying and brittling process, which Nahum attributed to some type of disease. The farm’s dogs and cats ran away.

As everything living was slowly turning grey and brittle, the trees continued to twitch and spasm like large morbid hands reaching for the sky. When everything was said and done, a total of five acres were completely destroyed. Nothing remained on the site except for a grey dust that was never blown away by the wind. As HPL noted, it’s as if the entire site was sprayed with a strong acid. This is why it’s called “the blasted heath.”

An illustration of the blasted heath by H.P. Lovecraft (from

Based on the information we have on the environmental impacts of the Colour, it’s very difficult to categorize it relative to human experiences. Initially the Colour appeared to operate as a mutagen (radioactive or chemical), with the final outcome resembling the devastation of a nuclear blast. While the final environmental impacts appear to be long lasting with the establishment of the blasted heath, this impact seems to be isolated to the Gardner farm. What’s even stranger is how the Colour progressed over time.

The meteorite fell to Earth in June; the Colour migrated into the groundwater. By fall there was an overabundance of large, healthy-looking fruits and vegetables that tasted horrible. From fall through spring the local wildlife exhibited mutations and in the following spring the deciduous vegetation displayed aberrant growth patterns and began to phosphorescently glow. Following this the insects and livestock displayed additional aberrations through the spring. By the following June, approximately one year after the meteorite fell, everything on the farm started to turn grey and brittle and die. So over the course of one year, the Gardner farm ecosystem was infected, mutated and eliminated in a way that no other chemical, agent or pathogen is known to function on Earth.
An illustration of the impact of the Colour Out of Space from anatomical mutations to greying and brittling disease (

Based on these results it’s almost as if the Colour was studying or harvesting the Gardner farm as a sample of an Earth-bound ecosystem. However, this idea assumes the Colour is some type of sentient entity, at least how we humans define sentience. Maybe it was a probe sent to Earth from another world or dimension, maybe it was some type of message, greeting or warning, or maybe it was simply a natural phenomenon that originates from a very unnatural corner of the universe. We may never know. However, an analysis of how the Colour affected the Gardner family itself may provide additional clues and that is what we will cover in the next discussion.

Finally, I do want to mention that Steve Maschuck and I have a Kickstarter underway to put together a formal Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 1 as well as another periodical – The Biology of the Elder Things. Both digital and hard copies will be available and the material will include an expansion of some of the discussions on this blog site (but in much greater detail) as well as some illustrations never before shown. If you are interested then please check out the Kickstarter at Thank you – Fred.


The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (


What was Known about Radioactivity in Lovecraft’s Day

The next article will discuss how the Colour out of space impacts life on Earth, resulting in symptoms similar to radiation poisoning. However, this article will focus on what was known about radiation in Lovecraft’s time, specifically from the late 19th to the early 20th century.


The Colour Out of Space by Victoria Dadedra (

In 1895 some strange new electromagnetic rays were discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen who called them X-rays, while in 1896 Antoine Henri Becuquerel discovered that uranium salt produced similar rays that he called “Becuquerel rays” (The Great Scientist: From Euclid to Stephen Hawking; Farndon, 2007). However, it was the pioneering work of Marie Curie who quantified such “emissions” from uranium and other elements that she and husband discovered, calling these emissions radioactivity.

Both of Marie Currie’s parents were teachers and her father instilled in her a love for nature and science in spite of the many limitations society forced on women in the late 19th century. For example, although Marie was frequently top of her class in high school she was not allowed to attend college in her native land of Poland. Thus, she attended college in Paris and graduated with a degree in physics top of her class in 1893. Two years later she completed a second degree in mathematics. Marie met Pierre Curie in 1894; they married in 1895 and in 1897 Marie gave birth to their first daughter and in the same year began her Ph.D. dissertation on the properties of the element uranium (Farndon, 2007).

Marie Currie (

Marie and her husband Pierre conducted the dirty and dangerous work of isolating and discovering two elements from material called Pitchblende, which is a black crystalline mineral of uranium oxide. A German chemist by the name of Martin Klaproth discovered uranium in 1789 ( but it was Marie and Pierre Curie who isolated and discovered the other two elements in Pitchblende: polonium and radium. The Curies won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, with Marie being the first women to win the prize. However, even then in his acceptance speech, Pierre warned of the dangers of radium and how it could be a very powerful and destructive weapon. Their work on radioactivity took a toll on the health of the Curies. Pierre tragically died in an accident associated with a horse and cart in 1910. Marie was awarded a second Nobel Prize in Physics in 1911 for her work on polonium and radium. She and her daughter contributed to the war effort by developing a special vehicle that could take X-ray equipment to wounded soldiers on the battlefield and also set up over 200 stationary X-ray clinics. She continued her work through the 1920’s and early 1930’s on radium but ultimately died of leukemia in 1934 as a result of her continuous work with radioactive substances (Farndon, 2007).

I could find no reference to Marie Currie and her pioneering work in any of HPL’s stories or selected essays. However, he must have been familiar with her work and he was certainly familiar with radioactivity, at least with what was known about it in the early 20th century. For example radium, which is highly radioactive and can be extremely harmful, particularly if inhaled or swallowed, was used in all sort of strange commercial products, primarily for its property to produce a strange green glow. Such products were produced from the late 19th century up to the mid-1940s and included products such as creams, facial powders, lipstick, cigarettes and even condoms (see below). It was touted as a health remedy for all sorts of aliments from skin and eye problems to “rejuvenation tonics.” HPL must have been familiar with these products (most likely excluding the condoms) but he was also probably familiar with the accumulating evidence that radium was a dangerous radioactive substance.

Hand Cleaner with radium (


Condoms with radium to make them glow I the dark (

In the early 1920’s one of the best jobs a young woman could get was working at the Waterbury Clock Company in Connecticut. Essentially, girls with sharp eyes and nimble fingers would paint numbers on the face of watches. The material used was paint laced with radium, which at the time was considered a wonder-chemical since it would glow in the dark. Many of the girls would wet the fine brushes with their mouths before dipping them into the radium-laced paint to give them a fine point. After a few years of such work many of the girls began to suffer from radiation poisoning, displaying horrible symptoms (The Waterbury Observer, by Ann Quigley, September 2002). Some examples of radium poisoning are shown below.

A person suffering from radium poisoning (

One of the radium girls suffering from radium poisoning (

In spite of radium being proclaimed as the “miracle element of the future” these young women began dying, starting in the mid-1920’s while they were only in their 20’s. Initially many of the symptoms associated with radium poisoning were misdiagnosed but over time the connection between their jobs as dial painters and these symptoms began to emerge. Many companies were making a lot of money with radium so compensation for the women and their families was long, arduous and hard-fought. If you want to know more, I recommend Radium Girls: Women and the Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935 by Claudia Clark, 1997. In spite of the litigation problems and roadblocks, the lawsuit and associated publicity was a factor in eventually establishing the occupational disease labor laws, which established safety precautions and required protective gear for workers. While I have no evidence of this, I am sure HPL read of these horrible accounts and the legal proceedings in his local papers, particularly since a large part of this occurred in Connecticut. Did these accounts of radiation poisoning and the “miracle” element of radium stimulate HPL’s imagination as he developed and wrote “The Colour Out of Space” in March 1927?

An article on the death associated with radium from 1927 (

To conclude, it should be noted that Lovecraft owned a spinthariscope, which is a device that detects radioactivity (I Am Providence: The Life and Time of H.P. Lovecraft, by S.T. Joshi, 2013). This simple device would detect ionizing radiation, typically with the creation of alpha particles and their bombardment on a screen, resulting in the generation of light or fluorescence. Typically, a tube was inside of the device, with a screen coated on one end with zinc sulfide. Between the screen and the lens a small amount of radium salt was suspended, which generated the green fluorescence. Again, “The Colour Out of Space” may have originated from HPL reading about radium and radioactivity in the newspapers as well as using his spinthariscope to observe the green glow of radium.

An antique spinthariscope, possibly similar to the type owned by H.P. Lovecraft (

Next time we will actually discuss the biological impacts the Colour had on life on Earth at the Gardner farm.  Also, if you are interested in a digital or hard copy of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 1, please check out our Kickstarter site at Thank you – Fred.


The Colour Out of Space (from

The Use of Color in The Colour Out of Space, Part 2

Separating starlight into its chromatic spectrum with a prism (

As light enters our eyes it reacts with the various rod and cone cells. In low light levels, light is detected by rod cells. In contrast in brighter light, light is detected by cone cells which are also responsible for color vision. White light is composed of the colors of the visible spectrum; a prism can separate light into these specific colors.   Various cone cells detect various and specific wavelengths of light and thus color. More specifically in humans, the S-cone cells, M-cone cells and L-cone cells are most sensitive to the short- (400 – 500 nm), medium- (450-630 nm) and long-wavelengths (500-700 nm) of visible light, respectively.

Rod and cone cells in the human eye (

This three cone cell system in humans is called trichromacy, which give us the ability to see approximately 1 million various types and shades of color. Some animals, such as many terrestrial, non-primate mammals (i.e. dogs), have a two cone cell system called dichromacy and can see about 10,000 types / shades of color. In contrast, many reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects are tetrachromatic (4 types of cone cells) and can see approximately 100 million colors, while some insects (butterflies) and some birds (pigeons) are pentachromatic (5 types of cone cells) and can see approximately 10 billion colors! Thus, there are some other animals that can see more colors – a lot more colors – than we humans.

In addition to having the ability to see more of the existing wavelength range of visible light (between 400 and 700 nanometers), some animals can see beyond this range. For example, bees are trichromatic like us humans; however, while our cone cell color combinations are based on red, blue and green, a bee’s vision is based on green, blue and ultraviolet (UV). Thus, while bees cannot see red and have hard time distinguishing it from green, they can see UV while we cannot. Essentially, bees see a “color” (UV) humans do not and humans see a color (red) that bee do not. Shown below are what flowers look like in natural and UV light. The patterns on flowers revealed under the UV light help to guide bees to the nectar and pollen (see below). However, UV light is not just a means of pointing to food. If bees are deprived of UV light they lose interest in foraging and remain in the hive until forced out by severe food shortages ( Thus, the absence of UV light can directly affect their behavior as well.

The visible spectrum for humans and bees (


Primrose flower in natural light (left) and UV-light (right)


Dandelion flower in natural light (left) and UV-light (right)

So, some animals can see more colors than us and some can see fewer. Additionally, some animals can see beyond our range of “visible” range of color while we can see beyond their range. All of this does support the idea that there can easily be countless colors that are not visible to us. Again, visible light is a tiny sliver of the entire EM spectrum – maybe other forms of life can “see” other portion of this spectrum. To them, our visible colors may be completely unknown visually, while they may be able to see gamma waves or radio waves.

In HPL’s tale “From Beyond” the resonator generates a field of energy that stimulates the pineal gland, which results in opening human perception to an extended and more holistic view of reality that our limited five senses can then take in; the result is seeing things we as humans cannot normally see. However, in the case of “The Colour Out of Space” it is not known if the Colour is generating any unusual energy or radiation outside of the EM spectrum (more on that later). Based on what we know, the Colour is not an artificial machine or device like the resonator, generating a field that is impacting human vision or our brain to allow us to see its unknown color. The indescribable color appears to be an inherent property of both the meteorite (when examined with a spectroscope) and the unknown Colour that was inside. While humans can see the strange color, we do not know if other animals can; we know the Colour affects all Earth life (humans, animals and plants; most likely microorganisms as well) but we do not know if humans are the only species that can see the unknown color.


Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space by Asahisuperdry (

Given what we do know about the meteorite and Colour, these visitors from “outside” are producing a specific type of EM wavelength that humans are not familiar with seeing. Thus, in order to tease this apart, I have listed below a set of proposed hypotheses that may account for the unknown color. Obviously, some empirical research and additional testing of the material would be required to support any of these hypotheses.

  1. The EM wavelengths being generated by the Colour are not within the slice of visible light within the EM spectrum. Maybe the Colour is generating EM wavelengths that are longer than infrared or shorter than UV. For some unknown reason these wavelengths are being received by our rod or cone cells in a wholly unique manner and are brains are attempting to translate this into a color. The result is our brain providing a feeble and confusing interpretation of this unique electro-neurological message travelling from the eyes to the brain. In this case, the EM wavelengths may be nothing out of the ordinary relative to the entire EM spectrum. It’s just this for some reason the conveyance of this energy to our eyes is unique, somehow altering the EM wavelength and “forcing” it be within the range of our visible perception. It sort of like shining a UV light on a flower and seeing those otherwise invisible patterns.
  2. The EM wavelengths being generated by the Colour are within the slice of visible light of the EM spectrum. As we have seen, many animals have the ability to see a lot more colors due to the number of cone cells they have. It may be possible that the Colour is generating a very specific set of EM wavelengths, possibly wavelengths in between those we normally see that stimulate our cone cells (or other cells within the eye). It may be possible that certain cells (cone cells or otherwise) within the human eye are basically inactive and are only stimulated when a very specific set of wavelength reach them in a very specific manner. This may even be a genetic response, possibly triggering normally inactive proto-oncogenes. However, instead of the unique set of wavelengths switching the proto-oncogene to being an oncogene (which is frequently associated with cancerous growth), it switches specific operations in the eye that generates proteins that modify the cone cells to “see” the unknown colour. In this case, merely looking at the color triggers an individual’s ability to see it. This hypothesis may also explain the deformities and mutations experienced by the Gardner family and the surrounding ecosystem (again more on this later).
  3. The Colour is generating wavelengths of energy that are found outside of our conventional EM spectrum. It is known through detailed cosmological observations that the composition of the universe is approximately 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% of normal matter (all of the matter that we are familiar with). Other than that, very little is actually known about dark energy and dark matter. There are a number of hypotheses on what dark energy and dark matter are but that is for another discussion. However, it may be possible that the Colour is a manifestation of dark energy, normally not detected by either human senses or our current technology.

There may be other hypotheses that may include antimatter, other dimensions or parallel universes in their explanations; however, the three listed above took the EM spectrum into consideration with their development.

Next time we will discuss the long-term effects of “The Colour Out of Space” on the Gardner farm and family. Thank you – Fred.

The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (

The Use of Color in The Colour Out of Space, Part 1

For the sake of this article when referring to the “thing” or entity in HPL’s tale “The Colour Out of Space,” we will be referring to it as the Colour. In contrast when generally discussing color as a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, we will refer to it as color.

In previous articles we discussed the analyses professors from Miskatonic University performed on the meteorite samples collected from Nahum Gardner’s farm. After the sample dissipated the professors went back to the farm to collect a second sample. The meteorite continued to shrink and cool and they used a hammer and chisel to collect a second sample, gouging deeper into the meteorite. This deep cut revealed a large colored globule embedded in the meteorite. The glossy globule had the same strange color spectrum that the meteorite sample emitted in the lab (see below). Tapping it indicated that it was hollow and a sharp blow made it “burst with a nervous little pop.” Nothing was visually emitted and with the pop the globule disappeared. The professors thought there would be more of these globules in the meteorite but no others were found. Thus, the globule emitted a strange color just was the meteorite sample did when viewed with a spectroscope. However, what exactly is color and what is a spectroscope?


Professors from Miskatonic University using a Spectroscope to analysis a sample of the meteorite (from Geek Dad Review –

Simply put, color is a physical property of an object that produced varying sensations on the human eye as the result of the way the object reflects, absorbs and/or emits light. Visible light is part of the electromagnetic radiation (EM) spectrum. Electromagnetism itself is a form of radiant energy released under certain electromagnetic processes and the EM spectrum is a means of categorizing EM radiation by the wavelength of the energy, from the long wavelengths of the radio waves all the way to the short wavelength, high energy gamma rays. Turns out visible light and its associated colors are just a tiny sliver of the EM spectrum between ultra-violet and infra-red.


The electromagnetic spectrum, showing the visible color bands (

As previously mentioned HPL did have a continued interest in chemistry throughout his life although his favorite scientific discipline was astronomy. However, these two scientific disciplines did merge in the consideration of color and how it can be used in astronomy. For example HPL purchased a hand held spectroscope, an instrument which is used to split light into its varying wavelength. Apparently he did use this instrument to conduct chemical experiments. Essentially, the spectroscope takes visible light and separates it into its varying colors with violet having the shortest wavelength and red having the longest ( While a prism acts as a spectroscope, the spectroscope itself can be refined to include narrow, parallel sits, which allows for the different wavelengths of light to spread out so the wavelength of light can actually be measured (

Shown above is a vintage Winkel-Zeiss portable hand held spectroscope, including a carrying case.   Is this what H.P. Lovecraft’s spectroscope looked like?  (

In chemistry spectroscopes are used to identify specific chemical elements in a sample. Essentially, the material is heated under a flame and the resulting glowing gas produces an emission line spectrum that can be documented on a glass plate. Since each element generates its own specific emission line spectrum, the resulting color bands can be used to identify the elements in the unknown sample. This methodology was key in the discovery of many of the elements shown on the periodic table (


Specific emission line spectrum for silicon (

So if we can use the light emitted in the burning of a substance to identify its elemental components, maybe the same can be done with light from the stars. In the 1860’s William and Margaret Huggins used spectroscopy to determine that the stars are composed of the same elements found on Earth. Further spectroscopic studies on the stars indicated that some of the most prominent lines were associated with elements such as calcium and iron. Thus, it was concluded that these elements form the majority of the matter in stars. However a graduate student at Harvard, Cecilia Payne, conducted work that resulted in different conclusions.

With an understanding of quantum physics and that ions are generated in the high temperatures of stars, Payne’s re-calculated the amounts of the varying elements identified in stars and determined that they were composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. The remaining, heavier elements account for less than 2% of the mass of the stars. This work was part of her Ph.D. thesis in 1925 and was at first thought to be in error by many in the astronomical community, a community almost exclusively dominated by men. Later she converted her thesis into a book providing the evidence for her hypothesis, which was well-received by astronomers. Thus, by the 1930’s her thesis was supported by the astronomical community (Cosmic Horizons: Astronomy at the Cutting Edge, edited by Steven Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2000; also see the DVD or Blu-Ray of Cosmos, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, 2014).

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (

The innovative work of Payne occurred over the mid-1920’s and her hypothesis that stars are composed primarily of hydrogen and helium was generally accepted by the mid-1930’s. Did HPL know about this? Was he familiar with Payne’s work at Harvard and did he use these ideas of analyzing the light of stars? “The Colour Out of Space” was written in March of 1927 so it is possible he was familiar with Payne’s work. If not, he was surely familiar with the work of the Huggins in the use of spectroscopy and star light. While I cannot find any evidence to support this, articles on such work may have stimulated HPL’s imagination and the development of “The Colour Out of Space.”

Next time we will continue with analysis of the color in the “The Colour Out of Space” and focus on how humans could perceive an unknown color. Thank you – Fred.

The Colour Out of Space by Talon Abraxas (

The Chemistry of the Colour Out of Space, Part 2


“Colour” by Peggy Mintun (

As previously mentioned samples of the meteorite that fell to Earth on the Nahum Gardner farm were collected and analyzed by professors from Miskatonic University.   The sample of the meteorite was determined to generate its own heat and luminosity, to be magnetic but does not contain iron, cobalt or nickel, does not volatilize at temperatures in excess of 3,000 °F, and is slowly shrinking. This article continues to review the chemical assessment conducted on the meteorite sample at Miskatonic University.

The next series of tests with the meteorite sample was with various reagents. In chemistry a reagent is a substance that is used to test the presence of another substance through an observable or recorded chemical reaction. Thus a reagent can be practically any substance or compound. Water and hydrochloric acid were added to the sample with no effect. Nitric acid and aqua regia, which is a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid that has the capacity to dissolve precious metals such as gold and platinum (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited, forward and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, 2014), generated a slight hiss or spatter but with no other effect. A variety of other reagents were applied to the sample including ammonia, caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), alcohol and ether, and carbon disulphide (a frequently used industrial, non-polar solvent that has an “ether-like” odor) with no reaction. It should be noted that in the story HPL called carbon disulphide “nauseous,” which was probably not the compound itself but more than likely due to added commercial impurities such as carbonyl sulfide.


University chemistry laboratory from the 1890’s (

When the meteorite sample was completely immersed in an acidic solvent, faint Widmanstätten figures could be seen etched in the material. Widmanstätten figures or patterns of fine, interleaving bands or ribbons called lamellae, found in iron-based meteorites. These patterns appear when an iron-based meteorite is polished and then etched with nitric acid (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft, edited, introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi, 1999).


Widmanstätten patterns in a cross-section of a meteorite (

Again, the meteorite sample was described as oddly soft, almost plastic and when placed in a glass beaker the specimen “faded away” along with the beaker. The strange stone was said to have a strong “affinity” for silicon. The concept of chemical “affinity” is very old and has pre-scientific origins. It was used to describe the “force” that causes chemical reactions such as the combination of two substances to create a new one. In the 18th century affinity tables were created, which were used as a teaching tool or guide on how various substances combine with one another.


An Affinity Table from 1718 (

In modern physics and chemistry chemical affinity refers to the property of an atom or compound to combine with another atom or compound of unlike composition. More specifically, this modern concept of chemical affinity is directly linked to our modern theory of the atom. Thus, affinity is frequently described as electron affinity, which states that when an electron is added to a neutrally charge atoms, creating a negative ion, there is a change in energy.

An example of affinity in my line of work can be found in the waters overlying the sediments in a lake. When the bottom waters are oxygenated iron in the sediments has a strong affinity for phosphorus, essentially locking it in the mud and making it unavailable for algae to use of a nutrient. However, when the bottom waters of a lake are depleted of dissolved oxygen this strong affinity for phosphorus is eliminated and the phosphorus – iron bond is broken, releasing the phosphorus into the overlaying waters. In turn, this dissolved phosphorus is readily available for algae to use. The availability of phosphorus from the sediments is called internal loading and can be the cause of summer algae blooms in many lakes or ponds.

Getting back to the sample of meteorite, it had a strong affinity for silicon. This affinity resulted in an exothermic reaction and the disappearance of both the silicon (glass beaker) and the sample is particularly perplexing since silicon has melting and boiling points of 1,414 °C and 3,265 °C, respectively. Thus, if the meteorite sample reacted with the glass beaker in an exothermic reaction leaving a charred spot on a wooden shelf, it would have generated temperatures of up to 3,265 °C (5,909 °F). Why didn’t the wooden shelf catch fire? Also, why would it have such a strong affinity for silicon but not for other substances? It is possible that the meteorite was reacting to Earth’s atmosphere, which would explain why it was consistently warm and slowly shrinking. In this case, the meteorite had an “affinity” for Earth’s atmosphere or at least a component of Earth’s atmosphere.


Willamette Meteorite (

Next time we will talk about the physics and chemistry of the “Colour” itself. Thank you – Fred.



The Chemistry of the Colour Out of Space, Part 1


Illustration by Shane Gallagher (

Relative to the various disciplines of science, HPL is most known for his knowledge and expertise in astronomy, reflected in the large number of articles he wrote on the subject (Collected Essays, Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S. T. Joshi, 2005). However, HPL’s first “scientific” love was not astronomy but chemistry. As a child he was fascinated with the pictures in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the scientific equipment and tools one would find in a laboratory (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi, 2013).


A sample of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (from

His first voyage into the subject of chemistry was the purchase of some chemistry equipment and the book The Young Chemist by Professor John Howard Appleton of Brown University. Besides experimenting and the occasional explosion in the cellar or fire in the field, HPL wrote on the subject of chemistry. While HPL did not graduate high school, based on his transcripts of completed courses he received his highest grades in Chemistry and Physics, a 95% in each. (S.T. Joshi, 2013).

Apparently HPL wrote a six-volume series on chemistry and based on a catalogue of his work, compiled in 1902, two of these volume were completely lost while the remaining four have the titles Chemistry, Chemistry, Magic & Electricity, Chemistry III and Chemistry IV (Collected Essays, Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S. T. Joshi, 2005). Unfortunately, the material that does exist is illegible (S.T. Joshi, 2013).


While the treatises focused on matters such as the operation of a carbon cell battery, gases and explosives (naturally, all young chemists are fascinated with explosives; it’s what typically draws them to the subject in the first place), HPL apparently produced a number of other smaller works with titles such as Iron Working, Explosives, Static Electricity and A Good Anesthetic. These smaller works are estimated to be written around 1899 (S.T. Joshi, 2013) so HPL would have been around nine years old. Just as a side thought – why would a nine year old be so versed in the science of anesthetics!

As with other branches of science, HPL’s knowledge and personal experience with chemistry found its way into his stories such as The Colour Out of Space. The inclusion of basic chemistry into this tale only increases the presented level of scientific credibility. For next several articles we will be discussing The Colour Out of Space, beginning with a physical and chemical assessment of the rock-like material that fell on the Nahum Gardner’s farm.


A meteor falling during the Perseid Meteor Shower (NASA).  When it is falling it is called a meteor.  Any remaining material that hits the Earth is called a meteorite

After Nahum Gardner witnessed the meteor falling from the heavens he went into town to tell everyone about this occurrence. The next day three professors from Miskatonic University visited the farm to collect a sample of the meteorite. Nahum and his wife noted that the object appeared to have shrunk overnight but the professors thought that unlikely. The meteorite did not appear to cool down since the previous day and when a sample was taken with a geologist’s hammer it was soft, almost plastic. It was also noted that it glowed faintly in the evening. Further examination of the material confirmed that it remained hot and would not cool and was continuously shrinking.

Once in the laboratory a number of fairly common chemical tests were conducted; many of these tests are fairly routine in identifying an unknown compound or material. First, when heated the sample produced no occluded gases, which are gases that are trapped in minerals and are released when heated.

When the borax bead test was applied to the meteorite sample the result was negative. It is interesting to note that the borax bead test is a quantitative inorganic test used to identify the presence of certain metals. The borax bead test came up negative yet HPL confirms that the scientists did describe the material as a metal. While this test can be used to determine the presence of many types of metal, it does not identify the presence of all types of metals. Thus, a negative result may not necessarily mean that the unknown material is not a metal.


Illustration of the Borax Bead Test (

Metals are typically hard, shiny substances that are malleable under heat and can conduct both electricity and heat. The collected sample was described as being highly malleable and had a dark luminosity. The meteorite sample was also described as magnetic. There are four basic types of magnetism; superconductor (strongly repelled by special compounds at low temperatures), diamagnetic (weakly repelled by all materials), paramagnetic (weakly attracted by specific elements like oxygen, tungsten and aluminum) and ferromagnetic (strongly attracted by materials that contains iron, cobalt or nickel). The one that we typically think of in our everyday lives is ferromagnetic. Not all metals are ferromagnetic, again a substance needs to have iron, cobalt or nickel to exhibit strongly attractive magnetism. However, HPL described the meteorite sample as being metal and magnetic. Does this mean that it contains iron, cobalt or nickel? Not necessarily. For astronomers the term “metal” refers to all elements other than hydrogen and helium, which account for the majority of the matter in stars and the visible universe (this obviously excludes dark matter). Given HPL’s strong interest in astronomy, he more than likely used this more generalized term of metal. Therefore, the meteorite could be described as being an unknown metal that is ferromagnetic yet contains no iron, cobalt or nickel.

The meteorite sample was also described as being non-volatile, which simply means it does not evaporate into a gas under a specific set of considerations. In my line of work we are very interested in the whether a substance is volatile, semi-volatile or non-volatile since this will determine its mobility in water or soil and, in turn, it’s potential for negative impacts on the environment and associated organisms. However, HPL was referring to the material as being non-volatile in describing its basic chemical properties. Specifically, he mentioned that the material was non-volatile even when an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe was used.


Illustration of an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe from 1827 (

What an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe actually looked like (

The oxy-hydrogen blowpipe was developed in the early 19th century and used to produce a high temperature flame (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited, forward and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, 2014). The device was used in a number of material processes and scientific investigations. For example in the early 19th century it was the only means of working with platinum since it could attain the temperature needed to melt this metal (1,768.3 °C or 3,214.9 °F). Thus, based on the analyses conducted at Miskatonic University, even temperatures as high as those generated by an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe could not impact the meteorite sample, or at least could not volatilize it.

Thus, so far we have a meteor that fell from the stars that is magnetic but does not contain iron, cobalt or nickel (more on that later), generates its own heat and luminosity, is not volatilized at temperatures in excess of 3,000 °F, yet itself is slowly shrinking.  Some very strange material indeed. Next time we will continue are investigation into the chemical nature of the meteorite in HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.


The Colour Out of Space by Shindakun (