News Stories

It's a Beige World

Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry, of Johns Hopkins University, announced in January that they had averaged all colors from the light of 200,000 galaxies and concluded that if the human could see this color, it would be a pale green?the color of the universe.

They now say they reached the wrong conclusion due to flawed software. The effect of the software error was that the computer picked a nonstandard white and mixed it with the other colors to come up with green. When the error was corrected and replaced with a standard white index, ?It looks like beige,? Glazebrook says. ?I don?t know what else to call it. I would welcome suggestions.? In January, Baldry called the color ?cosmic spectrum green.?

To find this color, Glazebrook and Baldry gathered light from galaxies out to several billion light years. They processed the light to break it into the various colors, in the same way a prism turns sunlight into a rainbow. They averaged the color values for all the light and converted it to the primary color scale seen by the human eye.

Glazebrook says the underlying data was correct, but the problem came when the scientific data was converted into a hue compatible with the perception of the human eye.?We were doing this as an amusing footnote to our paper,? says Glazebrook. ?Then there was huge media thing. We were completely overwhelmed. We didn?t expect it to get so big.?

The publicity attracted the attention of color engineers who contacted the astronomers and asked for copies of their program software. When the engineers ran the software, they concluded there was a mistake and notified Glazebrook and Baldry. The problem was so complex, Glazebrook says, that only a small number of color engineers had the expertise to determine that there was a flaw.

?It is embarrassing,? says Glazebrook, ?But this is science. We?re not like politicians. If we make a mistakes, we admit them. That's how science works.?

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