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By brian – December 31, 2019
The world is full of hundreds of different colors that we identify every single day. But what allows us to see all of these colors? Continue reading to learn more about the science behind colors and how our eyes identify them.
First, to understand how our eyes see color, it’s important to understand the different parts of the eye and how each one works.
The pupil is the opening of the eye that lets light in, and the iris controls the size of the pupil and the amount of light that enters the eye. When light passes through the lens, the lens changes the shape which allows the eye to focus the light on our retinas. The retina is the light-sensitive lining of the eye that enables us to see a clear picture, and the optic nerve carries those signals to the brain.
We identify colors by using specialized cells in our eyes called cones. The retina contains cells called rods and cones, which are sensitive to different colors of light. In fact, we’re not really seeing the colors themselves, but the reflections of the object’s colors.
According to Live Science, “when light hits an object – say, a banana – the object absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest of it. Which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed depends on the properties of the object. For a ripe banana, wavelengths of about 570 to 580 nanometers bounce back. These are wavelengths of yellow light.”
When you are looking at a banana, you identify the color yellow because of the wavelengths of reflected light. These light waves reflect off the banana and into the light-sensitive retina, which is located at the back of your eye.
Cones, which are cells in the retina that respond to light, are one type of receptor that reads the wavelengths that reach the retina. Live Science states that, “most of us have 6 to 7 million cones and almost all of them are concentrated on a 0.3 millimeter spot on the retina called the fovea centralis. Not all of these cones are alike. About 64 percent of them respond most strongly to red light, while about a third are set off the most by green light. Another 2 percent respond strongest to blue light.”
Because humans have three different types of cones, we see a wide range of colors. However, some birds and animals have four different types of cones, allowing them to see ultralight or other colors that the human eye cannot. Insects can also see colors that the human eye can’t distinguish.
Each part of the eye works together to allow us to see a broad spectrum of colors. If one of these is not working properly, you may not be able to see colors as well.
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