Physiological Phlash
April 28, 2008 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Mix up a batch of luminol...or let bioluminescence take care of the work for you! A Glowing Compendium. via
posted by Kronos_to_Earth (15 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I want to go there, I want to see that, I want to do that.
posted by rtha at 7:23 PM on April 28, 2008

Neat! I've seen glow worms in a cave, paddled a becalmed catamaran through sparkling dinoflagellates, and of course admired fireflies on hot summer nights, but I had no idea there were luminescent mushrooms. That is downright trippy. Thanks for the cool post!
posted by Quietgal at 7:59 PM on April 28, 2008

I loved the part about how they discovered the milky sea. Thanks for this post.
posted by peacheater at 8:08 PM on April 28, 2008

I've seen glow worms in a cave, paddled a becalmed catamaran through sparkling dinoflagellates, and of course admired fireflies on hot summer nights...

But have you watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate?
posted by katillathehun at 8:34 PM on April 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

But have you watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate?

Not to be oversynchronistic or anything, but I have had three conversations about that Blade Runner line this week. It just keeps coming up.

[self-link] In 2003 I wrote in Wired about MacArthur fellow Bonnie Bassler, who discovered a kind of of bacterial communication called quorum sensing by studying bioluminescence [/self-link]. Her work is fascinating.
posted by digaman at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2008

Neat! I grew up in Georgia where lightning bugs at twilight were a common summer experience.

I've also always found foxfire fascinating.
posted by darkstar at 9:59 PM on April 28, 2008

On a dark night on a dark beach you can usually see sparkles of this here and there. Look for sparkles in wet sand in your footsteps, or in or on your hands in the water. On beaches in Southern California I've seen "red tide" algae blooms at night that look like those in the pictures, except it's even brighter looking.

It's best on moonless nights, away from as much city lighting as you can. Let your eyes adjust, avoid flashlights and lighters. In the breaking whitewater and foam it'll glow so bright it casts shadows up the beach, like someone filled the sea with millions of tons of glowstick juice.

Personal experience as a surfer tell me to stay out of the water in algae blooms. Not only does it sometimes smell like rancid soup and sometimes kill off fish, it'll usually challenge your immune system. Sinus or ear infections, that sort of thing.

*reads wikipedia link* Oh, duh. That picture is in Carlsbad.

posted by loquacious at 10:26 PM on April 28, 2008

True story about Sam Houston State University (almost went there myself):
Originally they were going to call it Sam Houston Institute of Technology.
That lasted 4 whole months, until someone’s kid pointed out what its initialism would be.
posted by Faux Real at 10:29 PM on April 28, 2008

Freakier still is the Fortean phenomenon know as the "marine light wheel".
posted by Tube at 11:08 PM on April 28, 2008

Holy cow, from the first link: "The chemiluminescence reactions were filmed with a Panasonic PV-5540 video camera onto VHS tape .... The reaction sequences were digitized from tape using the onboard video of a 300 MHz G3 Macintosh (frame rate ~ 24/sec) directly onto an Ultra Wide SCSI hard drive using Apple Video Player (v1.7.1). "

I am guessing this page is at least 10 years old.
posted by tinkertown at 11:57 PM on April 28, 2008

I've also been to Puerto Rico where I've bobbed in my life jacket in gurgling disbelief among the magical blue-gold glitter eruptions in the warm, warm sea on a moonless night after kayaking off Vieques Island (as described in the first link).

It's everything it's cracked up to be - though it takes a bit of an effort; ferry from the mainland, booking a hotel on Vieques, driving to the bay, joining a low key tour of a dozen others, another bumpy drive to the mangrove swamps in a small bus with flapping broken back doors, hauling your kayak through the muddy, prickly, dense shore bush into the open water (the night must be moonless, preferably cloudy too), then paddling blindly out in the pitch dark where you're guided to the "hole" where the magic light suddenly starts exploding beneath you - and rolling out of your canoe for a trippy hour of splashing almost speechlessly around in your own special effects sequence.

(That's one of the things I recall very vividly. How even the kids in our party just started whispering in complete awe across the water to each other as we all reached the hole - "jesus, look down, look down!!")

But maybe the most magical bit, really, was coming home and going to a drinks party where we met a very vacation-competitive friend who had also recently returned from Puerto Rico. He was crowing how much he'd crammed into his four days there "but we didn't bother with Vieques - apparently it's been totally ruined by tourists."

"Actually," I said, "it hasn't at all. It was the most magical experience of my life..."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:52 AM on April 29, 2008

tinkertown - You're almost exactly right. The luminol link is from 1999. It was about as informative as the Wikipedia article I found, and featured a couple of film clips. (The page is certainly nowhere near as well formatted and displayed....) Moreover, Wikipedia references turn up frequently, and judging by my own reaction to that (I feel my eyes start to glaze over...), I thought it might be at least entertaining to cite another source. Faux Real's comment is pretty funny.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 5:57 AM on April 29, 2008

When I was 15 or so I went to St. Martin with my uncle, who is a scuba diver. He got me to swim out into the water in the pitch dark and I remember him explaining bioluminescence to me and I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world. If you would float for a minute, all the glowing would stop, but as soon as I moved my arm the whole thing lit up in little sparkles just like the article.
I still think bioluminescence is the coolest thing I have ever seen.
posted by rubberkey at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2008

If you're in a bad fantasy novel, there's always bioluminescent stuff on the walls of the caves to weirdly light your murky progress. It's one of the major tip-offs.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:08 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the excellent FPP; I'm bookmarking for my son, whose Science Fair experiment was on bioluminescence this year.
posted by misha at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2008

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