Newton’s Space Probes Investigate my Ribbons of Diffraction

I have been calculating diffraction patterns for visible light. Curves are displaced to turn the whole structure into a wavy ribbon built from colored wires or threads.

I have turned these images into collages, adding Isaac Newton’s drawings from Opticks (1704).

The more I moved Newton’s figures around, and the more I twisted the ribbons by changing the perspective – the more I saw white fragile space probes examining a rainbow-colored distortion in a science-fiction clichรฉd version of spacetime.


Diffraction patterns are created for the wavelengths of visible light, red is diffracted more than blue. Each pattern is a three-dimensional parametric curve created with SageMath. The pattern for diffraction by a single slit forms an envelope of the pattern caused by interference of light emerging from different slits.

The diffraction grating would turn a beam of white sunlight into an overlay of patterns for different colors.ย  Sunlight corresponds to a temperature of several thousand Kelvin, so I weighted the curves with Planck’s blackbody distribution (dependence of intensity on wavelength).

For diffraction formulas, see e.g. chapter 30 of Feynman’s Lectures, vol. I. Planck’s law is explained in chapter 41.

Source of the conversion of spectral colors to RGB colors is this blog article by a biophysicist.

Images of Opticks copied from the HTML version of the book available at Project Gutenberg (Public domain).

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