Tag Archives: Colour Out of Space

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

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Separating starlight into its chromatic spectrum with a prism (www.amazing-space.stsci.edu)

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.

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Rod and cone cells in the human eye (www.rpfightingblindness.org.uk)

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 (www.westmtnapiary.com). Thus, the absence of UV light can directly affect their behavior as well.

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The visible spectrum for humans and bees (www.westmtnapiary.com)

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

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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.

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Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space by Asahisuperdry (www.deviantart.com)

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.

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The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (www.deviantart.com)

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?

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Professors from Miskatonic University using a Spectroscope to analysis a sample of the meteorite (from Geek Dad Review – http://www.archive.wired.com)

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.

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The electromagnetic spectrum, showing the visible color bands (www.wikipedia.org)

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 (www.wisegeek.org). 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 (www.wisegeek.org).

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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?  (www.antiquesnavigator.com)

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 (www.wisegeek.org).

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Specific emission line spectrum for silicon (www.wikipedia.org)

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).

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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (www.worldsciencefestival.com)

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.

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The Colour Out of Space by Talon Abraxas (www.deviantart.com)

The Chemistry of the Colour Out of Space, Part 2

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“Colour” by Peggy Mintun (www.deviantart.org)

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.

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University chemistry laboratory from the 1890’s (www.ursinus.edu)

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).

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Widmanstätten patterns in a cross-section of a meteorite (www.wikipedia.org)

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.

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An Affinity Table from 1718 (www.wikipedia.org)

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.

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Willamette Meteorite (www.marmet-meteorites.com)

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

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Illustration by Shane Gallagher (www.deviantart.com)

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).

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A sample of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (from http://www.cthulhurisinggroup.com)

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).

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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.

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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.

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Illustration of the Borax Bead Test (www.nfalliance.org)

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.

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Illustration of an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe from 1827 (www.en.academic.ru)

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What an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe actually looked like (www.mhs.ox.ac.uk)

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.

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The Colour Out of Space by Shindakun (www.deivantart.com)