Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. I am distorted. The pixels you are watching have been time displaced. They’ve been mapped onto a gradient and the darker the region they’re mapped to,
the further behind they lag. The effect is really fun but it’s certainly not realistic. Or is it? Many, many popular digital cameras suffer
from lag induced distortion, like what you just saw, though much, much more subtle. Usually completely unnoticeable. It’s called a rolling shutter. Instead of snapping a full exposure at once they quickly scan strips of each frame. It’s usually undetectable. But when the
subject changes faster than the camera scans, you get the famous geloey wobbly rolling
shutter effect. Really fast things, like vibrating guitar strings and
airplane propellers, are famous victims, but people can be too.
Luke Mandel submitted this photo to Boing Boing[.net]. His camera scans left to
right and, in this instance, managed to capture a blink, eyes closed when the scan began and then open in the
reflection scanned a fraction of a second later.
But the rolling shutter effect is not just a neat curiosity. It represents a fundamental and inescapable distortion that affects everything we see. Rolling shutter or not. First things first, let’s talk about distortions. A hallucination is a distortion of reality when there is no apparent stimulus. If you are merely misinterpreting an actual stimulus, that is an illusion. But some distortions occur before our sense organs and minds get in the way. They are called optical phenomena. They are not the
result of sensation or perception gone wrong. Instead, optical phenomena are distortions
caused by the mere properties of light and matter in and of themselves. If you look up at the sky and see a giant vivid drinking gourd, you are hallucinating. But if you see a flat two-dimensional connect-the-dots
Big Dipper, you are seeing an illusion. It’s an illusion because those dots merely appear to be on the same plane, like
holes poked in the dark roof of the sky. In reality, those dots are stars lightyears apart from one another in three dimensions. As Celestron’s brilliant free real-time
3D visualization of space shows, from different perspectives, besides our own, they look a lot less like a dipper or plough. In fact, all constellations and asterisms are geocentric illusions. From a wider perspective their outlines point inward, to the single lowly point in space that gave them their names. But you can’t blame us. I mean, Earth is the only perspective any
human has ever had. And even Voyager 1,
the most distant man-made object, is still not even close to being far
enough away for the constellations to look even remotely different than they do here on Earth. It’s also not our fault, our eyes’ and brains’ fault, that distant, distant stars weren’t included in our early cosmic connect-the-dot game. Sure, our eyesight could be better, but optical phenomena are also to blame. If it weren’t for red shifting and the
inverse square law and light extinction, distant things could be seen in all their glory. The night sky would look phenomenal. Many structures up there are huge. They’re just too dim for their hugeness to be appreciated. When we see Hubble Telescope images of
distant objects, like the Helix Nebula, it’s easy to think that, without a telescope to zoom in, the object must just be a tiny point in the sky. But in reality, even though the Helix Nebula is 700 light years away, it’s 3 lightyears across. If we could make the Helix Nebula less dim, if our eyes could take a really long exposure of it,
we would see the Helix Nebula as it really is – nearly 70% the apparent diameter of our Moon. This is a serious picture.
That is how large the Helix Nebula would appear in the
night sky from Earth if it just wasn’t so dim. Our Moon is tiny in the sky, by the way. It’s easy to
think of the moon as this huge baseball-sized thing up there in the sky,
but that’s an illusion. Try this the next time you see the
Moon. Grab a sheet of notebook paper and you will notice that the angular
diameter of the Moon is the same size as a hole punched in a
sheet of notebook paper held in arms-length away. Seriously, try it
sometime. It shows just how cute and tiny our little moon is.
The Orion Nebula would appear even larger, if we saw all of its light. And the Andromeda Galaxy? Just a smudge in the sky to our eyes. But if our
eyes were better at collecting dim light, we would see Andromeda’s true extent in our sky. Of course, our night sky doesn’t look like that. Distant objects are dimmer, that’s a bummer. But light still
wins when it comes to speed. Light travels at the fastest speed.
In fact, in a vacuum, light travels 300,000 kilometres a second. That’s fast. But not really. I mean, not compared to how far apart things are in the universe. Sydney, Australia is 1/14th of a light second away from London. But the Andromeda Galaxy is 2,500,000 light years away from London. To put that in perspective let’s take a
light speed journey from London to Sydney. It would look like this… Ready? Three, two, one, go! Nice! Alright, alright. Here’s the Andromeda Galaxy. Okay, now, relativistic effects aside,
let’s take a look at what it would look like to travel toward the Andromeda Galaxy at the speed of light. Are you ready? Alright. Three, two, one, go! Yeah. I mean, seriously, it’s pretty lame. Even at the speed of light, the fastest speed possible, a year from now we won’t even be a millionth of the way there. That’s how far away Andromeda is. It’s almost sad in a way. But this brings us back to
the rolling shutter effect. The Andromeda Galaxy is huge. It’s more
than a hundred thousand light years across and our view of it is tilted. Which means that, on the plane we view it in,
light from the back represents what Andromeda looked like
thousands and thousands of years before what light from the front represents. Changes in its appearance reach us
sooner from the front than from the back. Andromeda is rotating,
spinning at hundreds of kilometers per second in some places. Now, a lag between light coming from near and far points on a spinning object, results in a skewed image. The rolling shutter
effect on a cosmic scale applied to, say, a chessboard, seeing the front ahead of the back is pretty trippy and dramatic. So, does that mean we see wobbly, funhouse mirror, rolling
shutter effect versions of Andromeda and other distant galaxies? Well, technically yeah, but the distortion is negligible. It may as well be ignored. Why? Well, the speeds used in these visualizations are not to scale. On average, yes, matter within galaxies orbits the galactic center at hundreds
of kilometers per second but galaxies are so huge it takes them hundreds of millions of years to complete just one rotation. In other words, the lag between light reaching you from near and far points on a galaxy, is nothing compared to how much time it takes matter in the galaxy to travel that same distance. In the case of Andromeda, if you insisted on seeing Andromeda as it really is, that is, corrected for any lag caused by
the fact that the speed of light is finite, the most extreme points on the Galaxy would only need to be adjusted by about a 10,000th of the width of any image. In this case, less than a pixel. So, it’s not a big deal. But it’s not a nothing deal. It’s real. In fact, everything we look at is, in some way, distorted by the fact that the speed of light is finite. Your own feet are about 5 to 6 light nano seconds away from your
eyes, which means when you look at your feet you are seeing where they were 5 to 6 nano seconds ago. 5 to 6 nanoseconds in the past. Of course, a delay that brief is pretty
much undetectable but it is calculate-able. If it makes you feel a little sad to know that even with the sharpest mind or the best instruments, appearances still depend on where you are. That optical phenomena insure appearances are always relative(?) Don’t feel bad. We call the people closest to us our relatives. We’re really just a family, a big family of reference frames that,
like a family, don’t always agree but do have plenty of cool things to look at. I’d like to thank my editor, Guy, for help with the rolling shutter effect in this video. And I’d like to thank you, because, as always thanks for watching. Oh, here’s something cool. I will be at YouTube Fan Fest with HP in India very very soon. Check the
description for more info. If you can make it, I hope to see you there.