Lights in the sky
May 15, 2008 3:10 AM   Subscribe

When I look into the sky, I can see small, brilliant points of light darting around. What are they?
posted by Tarn to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that's nerve endings in your retina firing off randomly.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:17 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you mean this?
posted by daveyt at 3:18 AM on May 15, 2008

Could you be seeing stars?
posted by misteraitch at 3:18 AM on May 15, 2008

What daveyt said... the other interesting phenomena of this ilk is phosphenes.
posted by phrontist at 3:39 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I get this too, and it's definitely not floaters (detached bits of retina floating about that move as you move your eyes), but it does sound like the other link posted in that question.
posted by jon4009 at 3:42 AM on May 15, 2008

wow, talk about being a day late... This 'entopic phenomenon' has been bothering me for years- I even thought I might be unique. Then yesterday the internets led me to the exact conclusion shown above. I guess I'm not so superhuman after all.

Ever experience visual snow?
posted by sunshinesky at 4:15 AM on May 15, 2008

What you're describing doesn't sound like floaters, which are usually large enough to discern individual shapes, and 'drift' rather than 'dart'.

It sounds exactly like misteraitch's suggestion, 'seeing stars'. I get this quite often when I sneeze or stand up quickly, especially after lying down. When I 'see stars' they're exactly as you describe: points of light that dart around in random directions. They appear and disappear quite quickly. However, you probably shouldn't see stars all the time when you look up - perhaps it's the sudden upwards movement of your head that triggers the effect.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:28 AM on May 15, 2008

I really doubt they're floaters- I get these too and they look a lot more like little amoeba floating on my eye. Mind you, when I tried to describe the phosphenes to my optometrist, his first guess was floaters, but dammit, I can tell the difference! All I know is that its hard to convince a doctor that you're seeing something that isn't there.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:43 AM on May 15, 2008

I go for jon4009's answer. I see floaters. Against a blue sky I can see blood moving through my eyes. You can also google "polarized light naked eye", people can see polarization of light if you look close enough. Like Happy Dave sorta said, and astronauts have reported, neurons can fire randomly or be triggered by radiation that's around us all the time.

Since you mention blue sky, It's probably blood or polarization.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:52 AM on May 15, 2008

When I was younger, and used to do a lot of recreational placing of little bits of paper on my tongue, I would see these for HOURS. I figured I was watching the inner workings of my eyes (nerves running around across the surface, being little data messengers. Oh, the recursivity!)

True story.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:38 AM on May 15, 2008

Wilhelm Reich said the lights were discharges of orgone energy which everyone could see if they were free of orgone blockages in their bodies.

Killjoys probably prefer the blue field entoptic phenomenon explanation.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think I know exactly what you're talking about--it's almost like you can see individual particles of air, but they're made of light, right? Super tiny, and tons of them, but you only see them when looking at the sky. I read all the links above but I don't think any of those are describing this phenomenon. I've noticed it since I was a kid but don't know what it is.
posted by HotToddy at 9:41 AM on May 15, 2008

iamkimiam and Zed_Lopez's responses right on top of each other are kind of hilarious.
posted by herbaliser at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2008

Hey, I'm curious if what you see looks anything like this cloud chamber.
posted by Area Control at 10:07 AM on May 15, 2008

I've seen things that look like glowing white whirligig beetles moving about. They seem to appear most when I stand up too quickly.

I also have floaters, that kind of look like hairs in my eyes. They are quite different, and float a predefined pattern.

In the dark, I see green and purple moving "splodges" that resemble the Matmos from the film Barbarella.

I've also seen what I think is the inside of my eye, in certain lights - it looks like a web of veins.

I know this doesn't answer your question, but I figured I'd mention it anyway.
posted by Solomon at 11:20 AM on May 15, 2008

Best answer: The answer is:

Blue field entoptic phenomenon

I gaur-an-tee it!
posted by Justinian at 11:28 AM on May 15, 2008

Response by poster: Many thanks for the informative answers, guys. HotToddy describes what I'm talking about very well. I don't think they are floaters or that I am seeing stars. It is somewhat different from the cloud chamber, since the points of light dart around noticeably. The blue field entoptic phenomenon is probably the best explanation. Cheers!
posted by Tarn at 2:39 AM on May 16, 2008

Interesting! I get something similar with any flat-colour surface, although it is much more pronounced with light or blue-toned colours.
posted by ysabet at 5:43 PM on May 18, 2008

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