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Q & A: Has anyone seen a subatomic particle with their naked eyes?

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Most recent answer: 02/18/2018
Q:
I would like to know if subatomic particles (hadrons & leptons) have already been seen with a naked eye?
- Zandi (age 19)
University of the Western Cape, South Africa
A:

Hi Zandi,
[scroll down to follow-up #16 for possible explanation!]
Good question! Subatomic particles, the hadrons and leptons you ask about, are so small they are difficult to detect individually, and elaborate apparatuses are designed for detecting the presence of and measuring the properties of individual particles. Here is a describing a fairly typical, large detector for subatomic particles. These detectors are designed to measure the effects of particles when they pass. They may leave a trail of ionized gas, for instance, or a flash of light when they collide with leaded glass. People have seen with their eyes these flashes of light and sparks one can make with the ion trails. An older technique is to expose a liquid just about ready to boil to high-energy particles, and then to take a picture as the bubbles left in the path of the particle start to expand. Here is a describing one particularly large bubble chamber, along with a photograph of bubble trails left by subatomic particles.

Electrons are the most common lepton, and protons and neutrons are the most common hadrons (see our description of . Everything we look at is made up of these things, and so we are looking at them all the time, it's just a question of whether we've seen only one of them at a time. To "see" something with a naked eye you need to shine light on it and observe the photons with the eye (and then one can argue that all you're "seeing" is the photons, a secondary consequence of the electron being there.) Electrons don't weigh very much, so when you shine light on one it will bounce away unless it is held down somehow.

So the answer is no, not to my knowledge, has anyone shined light on just one of these particles and then unambiguously observed the light with their eyes and determined that it came from only one electron or proton. The smallest I remember seeing a picture of is that of a single sodium atom sitting in an atomic trap, fluorescing laser light.

Tom


(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: Seeing sub-atomic particles is difficult

Q:
well I was looking for the answer to this same question for when out side in daylight.. if you look into the sky and focus there are many hundreds of thousands of little tiny particles .. which look to me like energy.. and like someone stated already they do bounce and jump and move around in all kinds of directions.. but if you focus you should see them.. at least I do.. I just need to know what they are.. and why they are there
- Onyx (age 18)
Detroit,MI, USA
A:
Seeing individual subatomic particles is very difficult and I think the effect you are seeing in daylight must be due to something else. Perhaps it is neuronal activity in your eye.   Researchers have seen individual particles but in order to do that you must be in a very dark room and the particles must interact with a special  florescent  screen.  I myself once spent an hour in a dark room with a Cobalt 60 source and a scintillator but never saw a darn thing. 
I was stupid, I could have fried my eyeballs.

LeeH

(published on 03/26/2009)

Follow-Up #2: "Seeing" particle trajectories?

Q:
I have been able to see a kind of 'heavy rain' of particles with trajectories that look just like the tracks in the old cloud chambers, since I was a child, long before I knew what atoms and radiation were. I see them day and night,and they come from all directions but generally have a main flow which seems to have some relation to where the sun is and which latitude I'm at. Occasionally, I see a collision event and particles canon off each other in parabolic curves or tight spirals. The particles vary in size and speed. I've searched the web in vain since the internet evolved, to find some explanation. Any further ideas about what's happening?
- Ron Branscombe
Tallinn, Estonia
A:
This is a new one for me.  I have never experienced this phenomenon and have no explanation for it.  Perhaps if others have, they will write in.

LeeH 

(published on 08/01/2009)

Follow-Up #3: seeing light particles

Q:
I do rarely see shining particles, that appear like transparent matter with fine grey shell or line around them . They appear like glowing and floating in air . I had the experience today and it lastedcfor 4 to 6 sec and i saw about 5 of such particles. Curios about what these r. I have heard people who massitate see these and consider them as energy particles in cosmos . I dont know much about it
- Anmol (age 31)
Nottingham UK
A:
Join the club. We're posting several of these to see if anybody knows how our eyes and brains create this effect.

Mike W.

(published on 03/26/2013)

Follow-Up #4: seeing particles

Q:
Well I have a question with an explanation. For about 13 years I have been able to view an interplay of tiny light photon particles that appear and disappear at a very fast rate...of course. Viewing them with the back drop of the blue sky brings out these particles to my naked eye. I am curious if anybody out there can join in on this conversation?
- Joseph (age 33)
Menifee, ca, USA
A:
We're also posting this to help find out more about what seems to be a common phenomenon.

Mike W.

(published on 03/03/2013)

Follow-Up #5: seeing moving dots

Q:
do to an eye injury at age 7 I had pool chemicals place inside both eyes I lost my vision for 6 months now when I sleep at night I see tiny round circles moving from left to right up and down in perfect formation moving all around including into my own body what is this thank you leslie
- leslie (age 32)
ks
A:

We don't know but are posting this along with several related questions to try to find out from our readers.

Mike W.


(published on 01/30/2013)

Follow-Up #6: seeing rain-like patterns

Q:
I want to disagree with your answers on this page: http://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1198 you are writing off peoples experiences as a neurological eye disorder. I can explain. I too, since my early 20's have been able (at will) to relax my thoughts and mind... let myself into a light hypnotic state and focus on the space between me and wherever. The MAIN THING is that you are NOT focusing on a physical thing... you are focusing on the air. slowly, or quickly, (depending on how well you can let go of your mind), you see millions or billions of white lines (dots).. imagine a constant falling rain. This is NOT within the eye. it is in the distance. all around you, as far as you can see.. even more exciting is that there is no need to stop here! you can keep focusing on this white rain and you realise that you can control the direction it moves! you can make these entire walls of falling rain suddenly go away from you or towards you... everywhere you want. it has led me to think it must be some sort of energy... or universal fabric (which I dont know the name of). but please dont just tell people who are at the surface of this that they have a disorder! go try it yourself. sometimes I find reliable results on a clear day looking in the distance air... (not too bright... but nice and clear) it all depends on how good you are at detaching yourself from your thoughts. you may see 'hints' of this white energy rain. but stay with it, and it gets more and more physical and more obvious to see. the more you go with it, the more you see ;)
- Marc (age 39)
London, UK
A:
I don't think we called this a disorder. Our eye-brain system is very complex and does all sorts of interesting things. We don't think that there is some stuff out in the air that can only be detected this way and not by any sorts of sensitive instruments, including cameras.

Mike W.



(published on 04/21/2013)

Follow-Up #7: Floaters?

Q:
I had the same exact question in my mind as to "can a naked human eye see atomic particles?" I totally agree with Marc (age 39) london UK. I see the same thing same way-white dots moving only visible in the clear blue sky sitting under a shady area. And its absolutely true that it seems like a light hypnotic state. I thought I was dreaming but I wasn't. You definitely have to focus your eye. I would really like to know more about it. I thought I was the only one experiencing this phenomenon. Has there been any scientific research on it? Perhaps this has been experienced by past scientists, physicists . And they have documented it in a written form like a book or research paper or something. I really want to know what these "dot like moving particles" actually are?
- sheren (age 26)
ny
A:

I think I have an explanation for at least some of the effects that our readers are pointing out: .This well-documented effect occurs when small particles floating in the eye are detected by the retina, usually when illuminated against a clear backdrop (like the sky on a clear day).

These floaters are easiest to see if you are gazing into empty space with your eyes unfocused. At least for me, this requires a bit of relaxed concentration, and a clear blue sky helps make them visible. They tend to slowly sink within the eye, in a sort of light rain. In addition, when I flick my eyes lightly, all the floaters move in the direction of the flick, with a small time delay.

These effects certainly give the impression of an invisible rain of particles controlled only by your mind. However, floaters are basically harmless, intriguing, and useless irregularities in the eye.

Interestingly, I'm pretty sure you can observe white-light diffraction around the edges of the floaters. This is why their edges aren't sharply defined, but instead fuzzy, tiny, alternating light and dark bands.

Hopefully this explanation resonates with at least some of our readers.
Let us know!
David Schmid


(published on 05/05/2013)

Follow-Up #8: Seeing Antimatter and Subatomic Particles

Q:
I am not kidding, this is not Ballony, Ok,I think I see matter,and antimatter, at night,I know nothing about Physics,but I am interested in it.Now,Its like ,gray matter,colliding into dark matter,and in between, silver waves very, very quickly, so quick, its not possible normally.these waves of silver fly around , yet dont collide with each other.Laugh if you want, but I see them.Im n Physic terms I wouldnt have a clue,Yes,I have heard of Protons,Particles, sub particles,butI think I can see them.
- orla (age 59)
Ireland
A:

Hi Orla,

Perceiving such effects is quite common. Many of our readers (and several of our staff) can relate.

However, there is no reason that this phenomena is linked to subatomic particles or antimatter. There are several possible explanations; see above for some discussion.

Cheers,

David Schmid


(published on 01/11/2014)

Follow-Up #9: visible dots flying around

Q:
Thank You, for promptly answering my question,on seeing matter and antimatter.I know there not floaters in my eyes,I can identify them, there not the silver {dots) flying around, sometimes seen on a very clear day,against the sky.they are silver lines, curving, going so fast, and in and out of each other, against a backdrop of -,how can I discribe it,?moving, light gray, nearly white" mass" intermingling with black "mass the white pulling the black twords it, all the while the long silvery particles flying around! Thanks for trying to answer this question,maybe in the future, it wont sound so ridicules!You heard it here first!
- orla Bradley (age 59)
Ireland
A:

We remain stumped, but are hopeful that some alert reader will help explain this common observation.

Mike W.


(published on 01/12/2014)

Follow-Up #10: visual particles

Q:
I just want to confirm/back up what "orla Bradley age 59" said. I will also chip in that they are definitely not floaters. I know what floaters are and these are not it. They are in a different 'field?', and they are not persistent. To my untrained eye, they appear to be particles striking a light-grey liquid surface, then leaving quickly in either a straight line, or sharply curved arc. The closest I could find on the internet is this: http://www.christopherwhitelaw.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/particleTrails_Icon-670x446.jpg Like that, but the particle trails have shorter tails, and are surrounded in a light-grey 'glow filter' sort of effect. I am definitely not a physicist, but if you told me they were x-rays or neutrinos interacting with the fluid in my eyes, I would believe it pretty easily. I see them on a bright day, looking at a white surface against the sky (sail on a boat).
- Daniel (age 42)
Guntersville, AL, USA
A:

We're happy to pass on these data in the hope that some reader may help figure out the explanation. One thing we're sure of: it's not neutrinos. They just don't interact enough with our type of matter.

Mike W.


(published on 05/18/2014)

Follow-Up #11: visual sparkles

Q:
Dear Physicists and Observers, My entire life, since birth in 1975, I have been extremely aware and perceptive. My innate practices of meditation include yogic, psychic, spiritual, celestial, and astral experiences. I would like to participate in the discussion regarding the above Questions and Answers pertaining to the energetic activity becoming visible to some people. Is it true that this activity is not able to be photographed or detected by technology? I do know it exists because of my personal experience, and shared, sometimes simultaneously shared, experiences with others. I would like to participate in the discussion about what is being reported, offer my point of view, and most of all - I am honored to hear your scientific response. Often, since birth, I see all of the following: Sparkles, "vacuum" sparkles, energy spheres (in certain color), dancing rods of Light. These experiences are definitively apart from "floaters" and other possible trickeries of the eye, as these perceptions are experienced actually in the space around me. I will briefly describe each of the experiences and humbly ask for your scientific answer in response. Sparkles: these look like stars, or diamonds, and can actually be seen at anytime in any point in space by looking for them. They are usually white (like a star), but often blue, and sometimes other colors like red, orange, yellow, purple, green. These sparkles often appear suddenly and prominently, with a light lasting anywhere between some milliseconds to two or three seconds in time. They happen in connection with certain thoughts or actions, positive in nature, involving self and/or others in connection. The different colors reflect different types/levels of action. "Vacuum" Sparkles: I first called these "backward sparkles" because they are the opposite of the "Sparkles" mentioned above. They are black or mirror-like. These occur in accord with negative action or realization. Energy Spheres: warm energetic hues, often blue or violet, that appear. This is different from energetic auras of spirits or living beings. Like the Sparkles, energy spheres are connected to thoughts, feelings, action, and occurrences. Tho I call them "spheres", they do not always appear as spheres. They may appear in other shapes and sizes, and sometimes they are more complex in their natures. These spheres can also appear as "Vacuum" type, having a mirror-like affect. They usually last longer than the Sparkles. I have experienced the blue hued ones lasting sometimes for several weeks at a time. They often have important information in them, and sometimes will open into a visionary experience. Rods of Light: Energy in the atmosphere that moves like schools of fish. They move through walls. I like what one person above called it - the fabric of the universe. However, it is one part of the fabric, as sometimes there are more and sometimes there are less of these light rods. They are alive and with a simple consciousness. They exist in the unseen world, yet are not spirits. They are between the physical and material realm of existence. I am not a scientist nor am I a physicist. I am an artist, rather off the grid lately, and am just now wondering, looking into what others are perceiving out there in the world. I would love to hear your responses regarding these phenomena! Thank you so Much!
- Ms. Rodleen Getsic (age 39)
Smokey Point, WA, USA
A:

We're happy to include your contribution. Perhaps someone who understands the brain's visual processing system will notice and contribute some explanation of this common phenomenon.

Mike W.


(published on 08/13/2014)

Follow-Up #12: seeing tiny drops

Q:
I can agree with many who are seeing this phenom. Its like falling rain or white rain. I find that I can see it better when I haven't slept all night due to work. For somereason my body is relaxed and Im able to see it. One time I returned home and noticed the drops around light sources and dancing around my moms head like little flies. She most of thought I was on something but I wasn't. I also can see them at the tip of my fingers when I look at the open air between my finger and face. I used to think I can see the radio waves because I witnessed the drops channeling to my television. Anybody have a answer to this?
- Vince (age 36)
San Diego
A:

We'll put this up to help further the discussion.

Mike W.


(published on 10/20/2014)

Follow-Up #13: Seeing single photons

Q:
What about frogs who can see individual photons with their eye?
- Anonymous
A:

Great point! However, it's not actually clear that frogs or any other animal can "see" individual photons. What we know is that some of the light-sensing photoreceptor cells in the eye are sensitive enough to detect single photons. This has been confirmed by experiments with individual photoreceptor cells from frogs and from monkeys, and it's thought to be true for humans, too.

The pathway from these cells to the brain, where conscious perception happens (at least for humans) is much more complicated, and tiny signals from single photons might be filtered out or lost somehow. Or they might not be—no one knows for sure. The research group I work with here at the University of Illinois is actually whether humans can see single photons, using a light source that can generate one photon at a time.

Rebecca Holmes


(published on 10/23/2014)

Follow-Up #14: seeing sparkling things in sky

Q:
i have read the question and answer above , because i am searching for answer for myself because i can see the sparkling things in the sky (not only in sky but every where when there is a light,, of course i need to focus for 2-3 second, i said sparkling things in the sky because it is easier to see it there than other place. these sparkling things are always moving in random direction . I start seeing these things in (may or june of 2013) at that time i was very sad when i look at the sky i see these sparkling things for the first time , i was little happy about it. even now i see the sparkling things and i am wondering what are these? am i a physics , do i have a super power , if not what are these things? i think they are air particles because they are every where. will if anyone have an answer or want to talk about it i would love to do it
- khaber (age 19)
zakho,kordistan,iraq
A:

Hi Khaber- We don't know what you're seeing. All we do know is that it sounds very much like what many other readers from around the world have described.

The way our eyes produce signals and our brain interprets them is complicated. Probably someone who studies those processes could give a better answer than our group of physicists. 

Mike W.


(published on 11/11/2014)

Follow-Up #15: fun with floaters

Q:
Hello folks! Just thought I'd add my 2cents! I too have noticed the "Floaters" OR what I like to call energy particles. These particle are everywhere! And make up part of our unseeing world. They are white and... MMMmmm actualy they look like spermatozoa! zigging and zagging in all directions. My kids see them too!(14yrs and 20yrs). Did some reasearch on the topic and found this bit of info interesting... First off I must say that I did this exercise only a few times but was VERY encouranging! You may try this for yourself AND will require practice! Look at the clear blue sky, followed by starring and unfocus your eyes and voila! U should see them zigging to and throw. Now either focus on one(harder) or focus on group of them AND... ASK IT TO MAKE A SHAPE!!!! YES A SHAPE! AND you will B surprised with the results! And folks that's my 2 cents! Namaste
- Blair (age 49)
Montreal, Canada
A:

Thanks. 

My own floaters are big lumbering things which interfere with clear vision and never do anything fun.

Mike W.


(published on 01/29/2015)

Follow-Up #16: see sparkling dots

Q:
Can't find a place to comment on previous questions. I'm an optometrist. The 'sparkling' things people are seeing against a blue sky are images (shadows) from white blood cells moving through the capillary network around the macula, central retina. If you are a good observer, you may notice that they pulse in time with your heartbeat! Chedck out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_field_entoptic_phenomenon
- Erick Hartman (age 62)
Tacoma, WA, USA
A:

Thanks! You've cleared up a question many of our readers had asked about.

Mike W.


(published on 01/31/2015)

Follow-Up #17: seeing particles?

Q:
This is not a question, but a response to the question: Has anyone else seen "subatomic" particles? I know it sounds crazy, but I too, see particles that are not dust in the air. I've never met anyone else able to see what I'm seeing. I don't see them all the time, but I do see them regularly - especially on crisp clear days and nights. I call it "rain," for lack of a better description. The first few times I saw it, I believed it had begun to rain even though I couldn't feel anything. After asking others if they could see anything and getting "No" for an answer, it became clear that only I was seeing it. Of course, I thought it could be my eyesight or the light playing tricks on me, but after travelling to various countries and seeing it in many places, I am certain that what I see are particles of some sort. When I watch documentaries on neutrinos, I think their description fits what I'm seeing. I don't know, but what I see clearly cannot be felt, is ubiquitous, falls in generally at an angle (like rain), but not all of them - about 80% fall at an angle while about 20% go in all directions. They seem so light. It's amazing. And no! I'm not on drugs of any kind. I think it's kind of cool! I've even seen them inside once, but didn't know that was possible since I'd only ever seen them outside. I'm happy to see a few others here that may also see what I'm seeing.
- Lorena Whelan (age 42)
Seoul, Seoul, South Korea
A:

It's definitely not neutrinos. They just don't interact enough with our type of matter. Check follow-up 16 for a posible explanation.

Mike W.


(published on 02/14/2015)

Follow-Up #18: more visual dots

Q:
I would like to add my experience to this page. For nearly 14 years, I have been seeing these tiny pink bubbles with green borders floating all around. These aren't floaters - these bubbles are densely packed and seem to fill the entire range of my vision. Upon casually observing a wall, I can immediately see the vast graininess, and only upon focusing do the bubbles become clearer. The bubbles are in a constant state of flux and move around at a moderate speed. At one point in space, the bubbles seem to be flowing in one direction. At another point, the bubbles flow in another direction. I can't say that they are bubbles- more like circles, since there is a 2D kind of appearance and movement. Its easy for me to notice them in the dark or in a room that's not too brightly lit. It becomes much less apparent when I'm seeing a laptop screen or when I'm outside in the sunlight. The bubbles seem to be in a plane that is about four foot away from my eyes. But if I begin to walk towards a wall while observing the bubbles, they seem to get smaller and smaller in diameter until I can no longer properly focus( when my nose is almost touching the wall). It's not very distracting to have them around all the time- it's like looking past the graininess on a TV screen. I'm just curious to know why it happens. It can't be air molecules because they are supposed to be well spaced apart (right?), and the concentration here is dense. I'd be very happy if this could somehow reveal the working of the brain/eyes. Thank you for encouraging people to report such phenomena even though they are of little concern to the physics of subatomic particles.
- Radhika (age 22)
Coimbatore,India
A:

You're right that they can't be air molecules, which are too small and interact very weakly with light.

We're happy that you've added more data to the discussion.

Mike W.


(published on 03/10/2015)

Follow-Up #19: seeing dancing light spots

Q:
Since I can remember as a kid I see thousands of tiny little lights dancing and bouncing around very fast in my vision. I dont see it in everyday activities until I think about it and I am outside in daylight. I can also focus on the clouds in the sky and look in one place and I can see patterns pulsating in the area I am looking at. Never really thought anything of it growing up til now. Do other people see these sort of things too?
- Amanda Francis (age 42)
Lennox Head NSW Australia
A:

Welcome to the club! I've put this in a thread with related observations.

Mike W.


(published on 06/21/2015)

Follow-Up #20: seeing moving dots

Q:
I'm another one who sees energy "rain." I first noticed it a few years ago, and I can see it most easily when I'm looking at a white background such as a painted wall. The "rain" is fast, constant, everywhere in sight, and seems to be oriented mostly straight down, as if it is being influenced by gravity. Some particles bounce around and seem to bounce off each other, but most of them are going straight down and seemingly straight through objects such as my hand. I just found this forum today because I finally decided to look online to see if I could find anything about what I have been seeing. I think it's definitely something outside of my eyes/body. It's nothing like floaters -- I know what those are. And I don't think that white blood cells inside my eyes could possibly be so wide-spread and constant (I've seen videos of cells moving around). This "rain" goes on and on and on, everywhere on all sides, very densely packed. I can see a very wide arc of it at once. Up until now I have guessed that it's some sort of radiation/energy particles from the sun or outer space, passing through Earth and being pulled toward Earth's gravitational field. I don't feel any physical sensation from it.
- Andrea (age 48)
Washington State
A:

I don't see how it could be particles from the Sun or farther. They'd be zipping along at close to the speed of light.

I'm not sure why you rule out white blood cells, which a knowledgable reader suggested as an explanation. They're present throughout the blood, and blood flows to all the cells at the back of the eye.

Mike W.


(published on 07/06/2015)

Follow-Up #21: moving visual dots

Q:
I just experienced something similar described on multiple posts. For me i was laying on my back with sun shining on my arm. I closed my eyes slightly and it refocused to see my eye lashes better. I dont know if my pupils expanded or contracted but i started seeing hundreds of white dots moving in my eyes with a clear pattern. They collide and bounce off each other. They congregate into one spot and just vanish. Or seem to teleport from one spot to another. They appear in groups. For example 4-6 of them join together, Vanish then appear a millimeter away (in any direction) in same formation and disperse in the same pattern. I cant explain it any better than this. What is hard though is keeping the eye still because if you move the eye the whole thing shifts. The eye sometimes moves by itself it cant be stopped. Which makes it difficult to hold onto one spot for more than a few seconds, But during those seconds theres dozens of times where flashes appear, join together vanish, reappear bounce off. So my question is. It is sun's doing. is it brains and neurons firing or what?
- Andrew (age 21)
Lithuania
A:

We don't know, but one reader thinks that white blood cells are likely.

Mike W.


(published on 07/09/2015)

Follow-Up #22: more dots seen

Q:
This is not a question. Why don't you "physicists" try looking up into the sky and focusing on the point just before your point of viewing? One of you MUST be able to see these tiny white specks falling from the the sky. I see also see them on cloudy days. They have nothing to do with the eye or brain itself. That is a fact! I have thought, actually that it is the orgone life force so to speak. Reich "discovered" it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orgone ) - however I do not believe it has any special affinity for sexuality. I do believe it is healing. Just this afternoon I was floating in the Lenti Hot springs in Hungary and lay there, gazing at these particles. It felt very healing to imagine them just permeating my physical/mental body. Wake up you naive narrow-minded physicists at Urbana- Champaigne. I am, by the way, a pragmatist and would never call myself an esoteric! So what do you think of that?
- sylvia carlson (age 65)
salzburg
A:

Well, it's more data.

Mike W.


(published on 09/03/2015)

Follow-Up #23: seeing bright spots

Q:
I have seen them also, was about a year ago which is one reason why I chose to research the question. I had taken a trip to the beach not too far from home. We were ocean front, about 8 floors up. It was early morning and I walked to the balcony to enjoy the view. As I recall the sun had not come up yet or it wasn't in view. But it was bright outside so I relaxed on a chair to look at the ocean. I noticed small light particles, not falling, but dancing in very short bursts into every direction before they seemed to disappear. One particle, from the time it appeared, did its unique dance, and disappeared, did not take long. Maybe half a second, more or less. So focusing on one particular particle was not possible, as by the time my eyes would look towards one I had noticed, it was already gone. So for a little while I just sat in awe at how beautiful and spontaneous these little "dancing lights" were. Well I was assured that my eyes were playing tricks on me so I finally rubbed my eyes and wiped them to clear whatever sleep was still in them. But as my eyes began to clear and focus again, I was stunned to see the "dancing lights" were still there. Focusing on them again was impossible, and focusing onto something in the distance didn't help to see them. It was like I almost had to cross my eyes to see them better. Other than me, my mom was the only person up that early so I called her to the balcony. I let her relax and enjoy the view while I continued to inconspicuously watch the beautiful fireworks of light display that I had no idea how to explain. All I knew is that it was amazing. Finally I asked her, do you see anything in the air? She said, like what? I laughed and said the mist floating in the air. It wasn't foggy out so she laughed and said no. I told her to stare at the ocean and to pick a spot to look at. Then I told her to casually cross her eyes and see if she could see the dancing lights. She almost instantly was amazed. She said, oh my god what is that? All I could conclude was that it was the water molecules in the air. So small that they were not forming a mist or droplet. And they were appearing and evaporating so fast that they did not have time to collect together. I have not studied this subject and this was the first site I came to that could relate to our experience. But I think, since I don't spend many mornings staring at the ocean from an elevated view. That my "dancing lights" in theory, were water molecules and/or with a combination of the salt in the air were reacting to evaporation. It seems this discussion may be closed. But, I would love to hear your thoughts as to how this could or could not be possible. Any further information on the subject would also be appreciated. Thanks
- Keithen Odom (age 33)
Pembroke, NC
A:

We don't close discussions here, so your story is welcome. We still don't understand the phenomenon. Since your mother could see it too, it sounds like there could have been something in the air scattering the light. Individual water molecules, however, are far too small. Maybe you're on the right track thinking of little slat particles picking up water or something like that. I can't think of any specific story that would work.

Mike W.


(published on 07/02/2016)

Follow-Up #24: seeing particles

Q:
I have seen similar occurrences as well. I have been attempting to research all avenues of this aspect I can to discover any relevant data. I was not quite sure if it was just me as well. I had proposed that it may be from a congenital color blindness. Due to this impairment, my eyes absorb more light than most people. It seemed like I may just be seeing molecules floating around, but there is a definitive direction that they travel, not based upon flickering of the eye lids or rubbing of the eyes causing temporary detachment in the eye or particles under the membrane in the eye. They almost appear analogous to a dust molecule with the exception that they are extremely smaller and mainly I have only been able to notice them, I know it may sound funny, but in my little bathroom under a florescent light. I could not say the exact color of them, hence I am color blind, but when. I turn the exhaust fan on, they go from floating around in entropic circular motion to moving upwards toward the exhaust system. They look exactly like the particulates you see when you open your eyes, move your head up real fast, and see stars... I have examined every aspect I could think of to eliminate the possibility of retinal detachment or whatever. It has been thoroughly proven that colorblind individuals can absorb more light at night than normal individuals. Look up the inhabitants of colorblind island... There is a great documentary about them and how they work on boats in the pitch black dead of night as if it were daytime. The camera man used a starlight camera to capture them working unhindered in the black abyss like a normal person would during the day. Even other creatures that are colorblind also have night vision. I myself have a hard time in the daylight because it is so bright that it gives me migraines. I would stake my reputation on it aiding in this factor. Could it be possible that when they defocus their eyes, they actually absorb more light allowing them to see small molecules? I am an engineer as well as a scientist, so I will get to the bottom of this intriguing issue. I don't believe they are subatomic particles for they are way to small to be seen by the naked eyes, but I believe it might be some base molecules that are constituents of the atmosphere around us. I do not believe it would be a normal gas molecule. I would think it would have to be a molecule with much more mass due the refracted/reflected light and by the slow speed of the movement. If it were a normal gas molecule, you would not see so little of them. It only appears to be approximately a few hundred particles per cubic foot, so not as many as you would think for gas molecules.
- Joshua Gibson (age 34)
48461
A:

From your description, you just need to replace the word "molecules" with "dust particles". There are a lot of them in ordinary air, and perhaps your eyes are sensitive enough to see many of them under the right conditions.

Mike W.


(published on 01/22/2017)

Follow-Up #25: seeing little particles

Q:
Ok, some here seem to be seing what I see but most are not. I have only seen this twice, once a week ago, and once about 3 or 4 years ago. I would describe it as shiny micro particles falling/floating through the air in a random way. I have some grey floaters that move totally different. I can move my eyes and my typical floaters will respond and move with my eyes movement. The shiny particles are not affected by my eye movement. Both times I've seen this I was looking into the sky, once on an evening blue sky and once on an overcast sky. If the particles were say 5 feet from me they would be approx 2 to 5 inches apart,and hundreds in my field of view. If I wasn't focusing on them I could not see them. My first thought is that they were either highly energized particles, or the heavy metals from chem trails - like aluminum sulfate. Any thoughts are appreciated.
- Robert (age 48)
Lovelady, TX, US
A:

We will just post this for readers' thoughts.

Mike W.


(published on 03/23/2017)

Follow-Up #26: more particle viewing

Q:
For as long as I can remember (I'm 30 now), I have been able to see small flecks of light (usually bright white in colour) in front of me - easiest to see in brilliant sunshine against a blue sky. I often see these flecks bouncing off each other and into other flecks. They travel at great speeds and I cannot change the direction in which they travel like I can with the single floater I have. It's completely different to floaters, as it is possible to focus on one fleck. The flecks sometimes appear to join with another fleck to make a larger fleck. In darker conditions, I see a kind of 'static' (similar to looking at an untuned terrestrial TV signal, but extremely subtle and can be filtered out.)I assumed that everyone see these flecks, and mentioned it to my optician who recommended I speak to my doctor, who recommended I speak with my optician!!! Recently spoke about it to my partner, who assured me couldn't see the same. It's very odd and does look like the behaviour of particles, even though it's very unlikely. Not sure if this is a factor but: I have naturally dry eyes, and am short-sighted (i.e. can see thing close up, but use glasses for distance), however, if I blink a few times to moisten my eyes, my vision becomes very nearly perfect (though it's tiring to do this, and looks odd....... so I tend to use my glasses!) Very interesting to read the other messages on this site.
- Liz (age 30)
UK
A:

Yes, something like this seems very common, and perhaps not well understood. How well do your observations fit the explanation one of our readers gave in follow-up 16?

Mike W.


(published on 02/18/2018)

Follow-Up #27: More on detecting particles with your eyes

Q:
This is not a necessarily a question, unless I am wrong, but instead a response to a question about whether or not one can detect subatomic particles with the naked eye. I believe that astronauts can "see" occassional flashing dots when in orbit around the earth. They believe this is caused by the retinal response to cosmic rays, or helium nuclei. People donít report seeing things like this on the ground because cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere create showers of other particles that wonít excite the rods and cones of the eye the same way. This phenomenon is also common in CCD photometry in astronomy, which is a similar, although much more unwanted effect. I DO REALIZE that this isnít specifically a SUBATOMIC PARTICLE interaction with the eye, but I thought that it was at least an INTERESTING ASIDE to the question that was asked. =)
- Jeff (age 26)
University of Kansas
A:
Well, the helium nuclei probably would interact with the spacecraft shell, the air inside the nucleus, and other stuff before getting to the retina. If it has enough energy, there will be a whole shower of hadrons (pions, protons, and other stuff) created by the collision of the cosmic-ray with the material. This normally happens in the upper atmosphere as high-energy protons and other particles hit molecules in the air. Most of the hadronic stuff decays down to muons which can be detected at sea level. Quite a few of the muons decay on their way down so the flux is a lot less on the ground than high up in the atmosphere. You might imagine that people even on the ground can see such flashes of light as muons interact with their retinas (although muons have a much smaller interaction probability than other particles, like protons or pions).

There could also be other things going on, such as cosmic ray interactions with not just the retina but possibly neurons involved in visual processing. In our high-energy physics experiments we put sensitive amplifiers and digitizing electronics on the ends of the sense wires of our detectors. Sometimes we get showers of particles from the accelerator that strike the electronics and then you get signals from the electronics even if the detector is not sensitive (like when the high voltage is switched off). You might imagine that random flashes of light perceived by astronauts might be cosmic-ray interactions with any piece of the visual processing chain, including the brain. This is one reason why these flashes were initially some concern, because exposure of astronauts brains to high-energy penetrating radiation in the form of hadron showers was not investigated at the time and could lead to unknown damage.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-up on this answer.