Astronomers: Universe is Beige
By PAUL RECER, AP Science Writer
March 8, 2002
The color of the universe is not an intriguing pale turquoise, as astronomers recently announced. It's actually beige — and a rather ordinary beige at that.
Two Johns Hopkins University astronomers announced in January they had averaged all the colors from the light of 200,000 galaxies and concluded that if the human eye could see this combined hue, it would be a sprightly pale green. That, they said, was the color of the universe.
But Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry said Thursday that their conclusion was wrong. They had been tripped up by flawed software that was uncovered by color engineers who checked their data.
"It is embarrassing," Glazebrook said. "But this is science. We're not like politicians. If we make mistakes, we admit them. That's how science
The effect of the error was that the computer picked a nonstandard white from its electronic palette and mixed it with the other colors to come up with the turquoise. When the error was corrected and replaced with a standard white index, beige was the result, Glazebrook said.
"It looks like beige," he said. "I don't know what else to call it. I would welcome suggestions."
In January, Baldry called the turquoise "cosmic spectrum green." But the pair offered no fancy name for the new beige hue.
To find this average 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 — similar to how 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 said the underlying data was correct. The problem came when the scientific data was converted into a hue compatible with the perception of the human eye.
The astronomer said that expressing the color for popular viewing was not even part of the original scientific experiment. They did it "as a lark."
"We were doing this as an amusing footnote to our paper," said Glazebrook. "Then there was a huge media thing. We were completely overwhelmed. We didn't expect it to get so big".