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See Inside The Science of Perception

Colors Out of Space

Colors can change with their surroundings and spread beyond the lines


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.

Science-fiction author H. P. Lovecraft considered The Colour Out of Space his best story. In this 1927 classic tale of cosmic horror, a small Massachusetts farming community faces unspeakable evil from the outer reaches of the universe. The extraterrestrial villain is not a face-hugging or chest-bursting alien but something far more terrifying: a weird color.

Slowly but surely the otherworldly color mutates and destroys crops, insects, wild animals and livestock. It impregnates the land and the water. The unfortunate farmers who encounter the bizarre hue fall prey to insanity and untimely death.

And you thought vision research was for wimps.

This article features some of the most spectacular color phenomena this side of the galaxy. You won't see any extraterrestrials, but many strange illusions arise from taking colors out of place and putting them in an unusual context. Use caution: the peculiar shades and tints you are about to experience could blow your mind.

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