Physics in Pictures by Topic

Light & Optics

Thin films can create

Soap Up Close

Thin films can create "destructive" magic

A rainbow isn't the only amazing thing that can happen when light bounces around inside water droplets!

Tiny Drops Create Rings of Color

A rainbow isn't the only amazing thing that can happen when light bounces around inside water droplets!

The Swallow Tanager gets its brilliant blue and turquoise hues by harnessing the wave properties of light.

What Color is this Bird?

The swallow tanager gets its brilliant blue and turquoise hues by harnessing the wavelike properties of light.

Developing and testing the most destructive weapons in history was a process fraught with danger—and discovery.

Nuclear Mysteries: the Rope Trick Effect

Developing and testing the most destructive weapons in history was a process fraught with danger—and discovery.

Light refracts through an empty glass to produce a rainbow of color

Dispersion Reveals Coffee at the End of the Rainbow

Dispersion through a glass splits light into its component colors.

There's something amiss about this prismatic rainbow—can you spot it?


There's something amiss about this prismatic rainbow—can you spot it?

Well beyond the density of anything we’ve observed, hypothetical types of matter exhibit bizarre and beautiful optics.

Too Big to Cast a Shadow

How can something be too big to cast a shadow?

Water droplets on the strands of a spider's web act as tiny prisms, creating a metallic rainbow of colors.

Spiderweb Diffraction HD

The dewy strands of a spiderweb can form a natural diffraction grating

Low-pressure helium gas glows an eerie, soft pink color

Metastable Helium

Low-pressure helium gas glows an eerie, soft pink.


Watching Paint Dry

Microscopic patterns form with surprising regularity as colloids dry.


The "Sunset Egg": Tyndall Scattering

The Tyndall Effect is responsible for the strange optical properties of this physics toy.


Ice Spikes

Why do ice cubes sometimes have points on their surfaces?


Diffraction Through a Spiderweb

Dew on a spiderweb's strands splits sunlight into a prismatic rainbow of colors.


Quantum Cyberattack

Future quantum cryptography could be foiled by a laser attack


Double Slit X-Rays

A modern-day take on the classic double-slit experiment


Skull Galaxies

The Perseus Cluster of galaxies forms a spooky, skull-like x-ray image


Comic-Con 2013 Swag

We handed out tons of physics gear at this year's Comic-Con


Titan and Saturn

The ringed planet and its famous moon


Supermoon in Washington, DC

A supermoon sneaks behind the Washington Monument


Paris Through a Water Drop

A water drop magnifies a view of Paris, shedding new light on the city


Fluorescent Mice

Fluorescent proteins can help scientists detect cancer behavior in mice.


Battle for Star Birth

Nascent stars and gigantic dust pillars collide


Pluto's Moons

Pluto's known family of moons may have just increased


Dark Energy Camera Galaxy Close-up

One of the Dark Energy Camera's first images


Backlit Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft captured this beautiful image of Saturn


Hornet X-Ray

Special x-rays give detailed images of small biological samples


Mars at Night

Curiosity snaps some nighttime pictures from the red planet


Perihelion and Eccentricity

Learn about the Earth's farthest point from the sun with a lesson in eccentricity


New Year's Eve Ball Drop

The physics behind the iconic celebration


Solstice Lunar Eclipse

In 2010, a lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice


Mayan Ruins Seen From Space

Satellites uncovered ancient Mayan ruins with remote sensing


Etched Nano Canyons

Canyon-like structures form lenses used for a high-intensity light source.


Ignition Target Chamber

Inside the National Ignition Center — home to extremely energetic lasers

AFM virus

Virus Microscopy

An atomic force microscopy (AFM) scan reveals several hundred tobacco mosaic virus particles.

DECam camera

Dark Energy Camera

A 570-megapixel camera attached to a telescope will help scientists uncover the mysteries of dark energy.


Optical Resonators

Researchers hope to combine high quality optics and mechanical systems integrated into an extremely compact package.

More Efficient LEDs

More Efficient LEDs

Nitride alloys expand the applications of energy-saving LEDs.


Rayleigh Scattering Sunsets

What causes the orange hue in a sunset? Why is the sky blue? Rayleigh scattering can explains these natural wonders, leaving onlookers amazed.


Crystal Ball

This ball is cannot tell you your future and it doesn’t drop to signal the beginning of a new year. No, this ball illustrates the physics concept of refraction.

Topographic Moon Map

Topographic Moon Map

This is the highest resolution topographic map of the moon to date taken from information gathered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).


Lighting Up Wall Street

High frequency trading computers can help make investors millions, but where in the world would be the best place for these computers to be located? Physics could help explain how to make your millions.

solar color

Solar Color Conversion

Molecules that convert light from one color to another could improve the efficiency of solar cells, provided researchers can find better ways to handle them.


Crystal Ions in Space

An ion trap allows physicists to capture atoms and hold them in crystal–like configurations in free space.

hollowa toms

Hollow Atoms

Physicists have removed the inner electrons from neon with a high energy X-ray laser, leaving behind a hollow atom shell.

light magic

Light Magic

While running a series of Monochromatic UV germicidal range finding experiments, Barry Ressler created a series of images that Pink Floyd would be proud of.


Happy Groundhog's Day

Will the groundhog see his shadow and promise 6 more weeks of winter? More importantly, what is a shadow and where in this folklore is the science?

happy new year

Happy New Year!  Laserfest Takes Over Times Square

When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, 2010, it stood for more than the closing of a decade. It marked the end of Laserfest(, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser. In this picture, Laserfest says thank you and goodbye in Times Square

shoot the moon

Shoot the Moon!

Lasers are used to track satellites. At the Goddard Space Flight Center lasers are used to track the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is collecting data as it orbits the Moon.


It’s Raining Gamma Rays

If you happen to step outside into a thunderstorm, I bet the last thing you are concerned about is getting hit by gamma rays. A team of scientists has been using satellite data to find out where gamma ray pulses are coming from with a great deal of accuracy in order to clarify if these pulses are related to lightening.


Gamma Ray All-Sky Map

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is our high energy eye in orbit keeping a look out for big events in the universe and creating an extensive detailed map in the process. A high energy map of our universe reveals many interesting objects such as pulsars, super-massive black holes and possibly clues to its beginning.


Free Floating Plasma Orb or Squid Ghost

Ghost of discharged capacitor found haunting a glass of water! What could be more scary than that? Try a hot ball of electric plasma.


Laser-Plasma Creates Electro-Optic Shocks

High power laser pulses create shock-waves and bubbles in plasma.


Magnetic Properties of Thin Films

This spectroscopic image shows what are called microwave-frequency magnetic resonances of an array of parallel, metallic thin film nanowire "stripes". The peak in the center reflects resonances occurring at the stripe edges. The strong horizontal bar of violet, black, and white, is due to resonances in the body of the stripes.


LaserFest Photons

Photons are the particles that make up light. Who knew that they were also soft and cuddly? Welcome to LaserFest 2010!


Relativity Train

This train has endured space and time to teach physics to those wandering through the Bolivian desert.


Crystal Clear

When an all-electron Wigner crystal (top) is squeezed too tightly, the electron wave functions begin to overlap (middle), and then create a quantum liquid (bottom).


The Sharpest Focus

A team of researchers has announced a new technique that allows light to be focused to a smaller spot than ever before.


Random Acts of Light

Somewhere between a light bulb and a laser is an unusual and sometimes puzzling type of light source called a random laser.


Tracking Traveling Excitons

Researchers have tracked their first exciton. A team of researchers recently reported that they imaged the wave-like motion of the particle, which is essential to the operation of lasers in CD players and grocery scanners.


Structures of the Early Universe

Enormous structures in the early universe which are invisible to the unaided eye become apparent when observed using a telescope sensitive to mm-wave light.


The Little Chill

Some lasers can burn through solids, but others, shined on the right materials, have a chilling effect.


T-ray Vision

X-rays may be as familiar as your local dentist's office or airport security checkpoint, but it's unlikely that you've ever encountered a powerful T-ray, a beam of terahertz radiation.


Turning Circles

Quantum communication schemes using light normally rely on the two types of photon polarization to encode information a bit at a time.


Optical Corral

If you want to keep a horse confined, put it in a corral. Now, it appears the same thing can be done with light.


Veins of Gold

Researchers dream of building crystals from the ground up to achieve tight control of their periodic structure.


Photonic Phocus

Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute today unveiled the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind.


Ingenious Algae

Many of the oceans' algae have evolved natural "sunscreens" as protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays.


The Whole Picture

Biologists dream of a point-and-shoot camera that can reveal details smaller than a wavelength of light in living cells.


Good Vibrations

Born of the marriage of two cutting edge techniques, a new method can image bundles of DNA strands by sensing vibrations within the molecules.


Cold Atoms

This year's physics Nobel Prize went to three researchers who were the first to observe and study the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a new phase of matter.


'Hole' Fiber Fights Cancer

A holey fiber may be able to plug the "holes" in the list of laser colors is affordable to most scientists.


Blinding Light

Light slows down when it enters a medium such as glass or water, and its new speed depends on the material.


Goldilocks Proteins

Milky-white cataracts, the world's leading cause of blindness, can occur when proteins in the lens of the eye aggregate, or collect, forming clumps.