Wednesday, May 27, 2009

WAY TO GLOW!


Summer is now almost fully upon us here along the north shore, so it's time to put new batteries in my Stink-Finder. I think I mentioned this handy gadget in a post last summer, but I’ll quickly recap here. A Stink-Finder is a palm-sized black light that can be used to locate invisible pet stains on the carpet, which glow, or fluoresce, under the UV light. Well, I don’t have that problem with my pets, thank goodness. So what do I need with a black light? I use it for identifying a certain kind of beachglass called “Vaseline” glass. This beachglass, which dates usually to the 1920s, has a small amount of uranium dioxide (about 2%) and this tiny bit of radiation (about as much as the background radiation of the Universe that we live in everyday) makes it glow under a black light. It’s not dangerous to handle, and lots of fun to find. Lying on the sand in the sunlight, Vaseline glass looks pretty much like any other piece of pale greenish-yellow (hence the name) glass, but take it home and go in your bathroom with a Stink-Finder—I just meant because it’s dark in there—and watch the Vaseline glass glow bright green, and sometimes even orange. So, now with my new batteries, I’m ready to go. But while I was there in the bathroom in the dark, I ran the black light over the wall where I’d painted a mural when I first moved in. And a light went on in my head.

The mural I painted is a pond scene at twilight. It has frogs singing in the reeds, a cricket band on shore, and moths and fireflies going up the wall. For the fireflies, I used phosphorescent paint. They, too, glow in the dark—but only if I turn on the incandescent light for a few moments first. I wondered about the black light, so I held the S-F up to a firefly, and sure enough, the fireflies glowed, too, without the help of the incandescent bulbs. This got me thinking about day-glo paint and my old Jefferson Airplane black-light poster from the ‘60s and something I’d seen on TV about scorpions, the dial on my watch when I press that little knob—and I decided I better check it out. Some of you may already know this, but I was surprised to learn that florescence and phosphorescence, which I have been using pretty much interchangeably all my life, are not exactly the same thing. Without going into all the technical and scientific jargon, I learned that fluorescence means something glows under a black light, and stops glowing, like Vaseline beachglass does, when the black light is removed. Phosphorescence means something can store up energy and glow for a while without a black light present, like my painted fireflies.




A third kind of light, bioluminescence, is light created by a chemical reaction in living creatures, including real, not painted, fireflies.









Photos, top to bottom:

1) Vaseline beachglass fluorescing under the Stink-Finder
2) phosphorescent-painted firefly in my bathroom under the S-F
3) a scorpion, which naturally fluoresces under a black-light
4) bioluminescent jellyfish

15 comments:

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Your stink-finder is neat, Deb... One of my sons used to have a black-light. One year when I was teaching Vacation Bible School to kids in the summer, our theme was something using moons and stars. We hung all kinds of moons and stars in a dark room and used some black lights. It was quite effective...

Have a wonderful day.

Love your posts, Deb.
Hugs,
Betsy

Quiet Paths said...

Really cool post. Want! Where can I find one of those?

jinksy said...

A real 'enlightening' post!

Rose said...

A very interesting post...I would enjoy hunting for the vaseline glass.

And I had never heard of a stink finder...

The white flower in my blog is my clematis--I don't know why I didn't post its name.

bobbie said...

What fun ideas you have!
Isn't vaseline glass lovely?

Kallen305 said...

Such a cool idea for a practival item. I may have to find one of those myself!

Dianne said...

never heard of a stink finder
thankfully Mia and Siren are pretty good about their habits

I love learing about vaseline glass and the different types of illumination

cool!

Shellmo said...

Never heard of a stink finder before but very interesting! I love that pond mural you painted!

Sue said...

I'd be afraid to have a "stink finder" in my home, because half the carpet and lower walls would probably glow horribly from years of aging cat and dog abuse.

Lin said...

wow fascinating.

Cloudia said...

I'm dazzled, Deborah!

Sylvia K said...

Great post, Deborah! Sorry I'm so late getting by -- connection problems for whatever reason. You've pulled some new ones on me, haven't heard of these items before, but you surely do have some great ideas!

magiceye said...

wow! that sure was informative and interesting

Kevin said...

Hi Deb,

Any idea whether we might have vaseline glass on the west coast or is it more of a regional material? I might have to take a look at some of the beaches around here.

One fascinating item I learned about scorpions glowing is that they still glow when dead and fossilized - pretty cool stuff!

Wren said...

Both fascinating and really cool stuff - I need one of these lights, obviously.

Well, Obvious to me, anyway.